Photo by Thomas Wallner

Evan Faris as Thurston Wheelis on left and Bryan Ray as Arles Struvie practice for their upcoming performance in “Greater Tuna,” which starts on May 6 at The Perry. The play will be a Graham Regional Theatre production.

Theater to present ‘Greater Tuna’ May 6-22

“It is just about small town Texas, and the town is Tuna Texas, which is the third smallest town in Texas. It doesn’t matter who we talk about because everyone here will know somebody who fits that bill from right here in this city”

In its second performance in The Perry, Graham Regional Theater will present “Greater Tuna” May 6-22.

The group had not planned on the production, but public support of the theater encouraged it.

“This was not an originally scheduled show but we had so many people after our last production there, the first one, that said ‘How soon are you doing another production?’ And so we felt like this was one that we were familiar with the characters and we were familiar with the style and structure that we could put it up quickly and do really well and we got a great response when we suggested it,” said Christian Sanders, managing director of the theater.

The first performance at The Perry theater in downtown Graham, which used to house Graham Television Service Center, was “Steel Magnolias.” Sanders said the “Steel Magnolias” performances sold out and prompted requests for more shows.

GRT was familiar with “Greater Tuna” by Jaston Williams, Ed Howard and Joe Sears, because they had presented “A Tuna Christmas” in December 2013.

The show requires only two actors who play the many characters throughout it, and according to Katie Huitt, associate producer on the board of governors for the theater, that adds to the odd nature of the performance.

“We did ‘Tuna Christmas’ a couple of years back, and it’s the same characters and the same town but a different storyline,” she said. “It’s such a hilarious, outlandish but relatable premise. Two guys play all these different characters, men, women and children and even dogs. One of our actors provides the voice for one of the dogs in the show.
“It’s really versatile, but there is something really funny and relatable about two people,” Huitt said. “In a small town you feel like you know everyone, well Tuna such a small town you really, really, know everyone.”

According to Huitt, the wheel started turning to get thing moving for the production directly after “Steel Magnolias” closed in February.

“It might have been the first week in March that we had our first read through, but we started planning for it in February,” she said. “Pretty much as soon as ‘Steel Magnolias’ closed, we knew that we were going to be doing this and then we started putting all the pieces in motion.”

“Greater Tuna” is a one-day journey into the life of Tuna, Texas. It shows the town through two actors who portray the characters that span from a 9-year-old boy to a 72-year-old woman.

“It is just about small town Texas, and the town is Tuna Texas, which is the third smallest town in Texas. It doesn’t matter who we talk about because everyone here will know somebody who fits that bill from right here in this city,” said Evan Faris, who is one of the production’s two actors. “It’s fun in that way because when they wrote it, it was Texas all over.”

The two actors portraying the characters are Faris and Bryan Ray, who have been involved with GRT in past performances. According to Ray, the hardest part of the show is being on your toes when changing into another personality.

“I think the most difficult part is you have to change the way you walk, the way you think, your voice,” he said. “The change, as far as the clothes go for Evan and I, is pretty easy, we just stand there and throw our arms up. You have to come out one side of the hall and go beside it and change clothes and come out the other side and be a different person and walk differently and think differently.”

According to Huitt, there are 27 total quick changes for one of the characters and 43 quick changes in all, not including the first costume they come out in or the first costume out after the beginning of Act 2.

“We laugh about it backstage because it’s like a choreographed dance,” she said. “You have to have everything ready. You have to have the steps decided on what happens first and what happens last. Some of these costume changes we have longer for, but some of our quicker ones happen in less than 10 seconds.”

The stage manager for the production, Kay Berru, said that while there is action going on outside with the actors, there is also just as much going on behind the scenes.

“There are three of us that are working backstage. Some of them (costume changes) are a one-person change and some of them are a three-person change. Some of them we have two or three minutes to get the change done which doesn’t seem like a lot of time but for us that is a lot of time, some of them are ten to fifteen second change,” Berru said. “It’s hard work, and it’s very hot back there but it’s fun. We say in the theater sometimes that the real show is backstage, and this is one of those shows.”

Ray, who will be portraying half of the characters for the show, was involved with “Tuna Christmas,” so he was familiar with the layout of the characters and show, but Faris is new to the production.

“This is my first time to do ‘Tuna,’ so I am the real newbie here,” Faris said. “So it’s been fun learning all the different characterizations and putting my own spin on a few things, but we have all been lots of shows here. That’s the fun thing; it’s just a great family theatre and great gem of a theater here in a small town.”

According to Huitt, GRT has been putting on productions at the Graham Memorial Auditorium for 12 years and will still continue to use it for big-scale productions. The two shows for the summer will be within one week of each other, according to Sanders who will direct the performances.

“We have ‘Suessical Jr.’ that will be part of our youth camp that we are doing this summer,” Sanders said. “We will do a one-week youth camp where we will rehearse and prepare ‘Suessical Jr.,’ and we will perform that on June 17 and 18.

“And then the very next weekend, we will perform ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.’ It’s a little crazy, but I think it’s gonna come off well,” he said. “We have a lot of good people working on it.”

“Greater Tuna” will be presented over three weekends, May 6-22. The performances will begin at 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. The Perry theater is located at 521 Elm St.

Tickets for “Greater Tuna” can be purchased online here and more information can be found about GRT at www.grahamregionaltheatre.com. Availability is limited due to the small space of The Perry.

“We are hoping that folks will get their tickets early so that they are able to see the show because it’s a smaller more intimate space and at some point we are full,” Sanders said.

The Graham Leader

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