Canning Tuna

Climactic things happen at the end of trilogies, whether it's Michael Corleone chomping his last cannoli or Luke Skywalker finding out the girl of his dreams is really his sister. Similar earth-shattering revelations are surely in store for the residents of mythical Tuna, Texas (where "the Lions Club is too liberal and Patsy Cline never dies"), in Red, White and Tuna. It's the third (and purportedly last) installment in the hugely popular series.

The Tuna phenomenon began more than 15 years ago as a skit performed at a party by Joe Sears and Jaston Williams. The duo (along with co-writer Ed Howard) fleshed out Tuna's men, women, children and animals in Greater Tuna and A Tuna Christmas. Every durned one is portrayed by Sears and Williams, who have become masters of the quick costume change. "We try to make them characters and not just caricatures. We also put a lot of heart into them and hope it comes through," Williams says by phone from his Austin home. "And we don't just rely on tricks. We wrote these plays with the long haul in mind."

While Greater Tuna focused on political humor and A Tuna Christmas tackled relationships, Red, White and Tuna addresses, says Williams, "change and how it happens ... or doesn't." The show takes place during a Tuna High School reunion over a Fourth of July weekend. "It's got a lot of baby-boomer issues and concerns, like getting older," Williams says. "And, of course, we still have a ball with the far right!"

Williams recalls attending his own 20th high school reunion with the Crosbyton, Texas, class of 1969 (it was held in nearby Lubbock so attendees could drink legally). "I remember feeling a little tension, because I didn't want anyone to be offended by either Tuna or the public success I'd had with it. But people were happy about it, and I saw that a lot of them had things that I'd given up for [a theater career]."

But will audiences really see the last of Pearl Burras, Arles Struvie, Garland Poteet and the other Tunites? Williams says the idea for a "final chapter" hadn't occurred during the writing sessions, but that both men needed a break from Tuna. "Joe and I met 25 years ago doing Shakespeare, and I'd like to go back to that for a while. But you never know where these characters are going to pop up again."

Might we see Vera Carp, Tuna's Prayer Posse leader, decked out as Lady Macbeth?

-- Bob Ruggiero

Red, White and Tuna: 8 p.m. April 9 and 10; 2 and 7:30 p.m. April 11; 2 and 7 p.m. April 12; 8 p.m. April 14 and 15. Through April 19. The Grand 1894 Opera House, 2020 Postoffice, Galveston, (800) 821-1894, (409) 765-1894. $10 to $39.

 
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