Red, White, and Tuna
Reviewed by David Kashimba

Red, White, and Tuna, at the Marines Memorial Theatre, is the third part of a trilogy, including Greater Tuna and A Tuna Christmas that have been entertaining audiences across the country since 1982. The play is about all the unique and wildly funny characters who live in Tuna, the third-smallest town in Texas. Though the town and its inhabitants are fictitious, they are created and played by two actors who grew up in a small town atmosphere.

The son of a farmer and rancher, Jaston Williams grew up in Crosbyton, Texas. "(My father's family) were pioneers in West Texas, incredible salt of the earth people," Williams said. According to Williams, Tuna's newscaster, Arles Struvie, on their conservative Radio OKKK, uses his father's gestures and expressions.

Growing up in Bartesville, Okla., Joe Sears had cowboys and ranchers all around him. All his uncles and grandparents were ranchers and competed in rodeos. Like his partner in comedy, Sears also closely observed the people around him when he was growing up. "I had fun hanging around in the kitchen watching my aunts prepare Thanksgiving dinner." Sears said. "The way they carried on conversation, joked with one another, I always watched that."

Their observations while growing up, of the people around them, helped them to create and portray the characters in Red, White and Tuna. While their portrayals of about 20 men and women in the play are comic, Williams' and Sears' sensitivity to the characters shines through, and the audience laughs with them not at them.

Audience members who grew up in small towns easily identify with the characters. Bertha Bumiller, in her 4th of July red, white and blue polyester pantsuit with matching flag earrings, has a unique charm that reminds them of one of their aunts or former next door neighbors. "We have these old-timer members of our family who spoke in a very specific way and had very unusual inflections, which are disappearing from our language," Williams said. "And we try to keep those alive... I guess people feel the Tuna people are family."

Indeed, this feeling of family is probably the key element that has made the Tuna trilogy so popular. But don't underestimate the power of laughter because the laughs are non-stop. And an additional element of success comes from the special friendship between the two actors.

"When you stumble onto someone who thinks like you and enjoys the craft like you, you start to share inner ideas," Joe says. "I like someone who stimulates me intellectually and Jaston and I hit it off there. That's why we wanted to work together."

It's been a winning combination for almost 20 years now. If you haven't seen this dynamic duo perform yet, go see their latest production at the Marines Memorial Theatre in San Francisco. For reservations or touring information call toll-free 1 (877) 771-6900.

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