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Even Greater 'Tuna'

Tiny Texas town back on stage for more laughs

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Photographs by Courtesy Photo

The cast of the current tour of “Greater Tuna” has been expanded from two to three, with each actor playing seven characters. Tim Leavon, center, portrays Vera Carp, all of the Bumiller children, the town mortician and a new character named Ronnie.

"If we cain't kill it, it's immortal."

-- Didi Snavely of Didi's Used Weapons

FAQ

‘Greater Tuna’

WHEN — 4 p.m. Sunday, April 30

WHERE — Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville

COST — $15 & up

INFO — 443-5600

Didi Snavely is just one of the characters in the tiny -- and only somewhat fictional -- town of Tuna, Texas, "where the Lions Club is too liberal and Patsy Cline never dies." There's also Vera Carp, still leading the Smut Snatchers of the New Order in their campaign to clear the library shelves of dirty books like "Huckleberry Finn" and "Romeo and Juliet." Elmer Watkins still speaks up for the KKK and Petey Fisk still argues for animal rights.

Still chronicling it all are Arles Struvie and Thurston Wheelis of Radio Station OKKK, for most of 36 years played by Joe Sears and Jaston Williams, two of the comedy's three authors, under the direction of Ed Howard, the third. Almost immediately after its debut, "Greater Tuna" opened Off-Broadway, ran for over a year and went on to become one of the most produced plays in American theater history, with two actors always playing the 20-plus characters.

On this national tour, stopping Sunday at the Walton Arts Center, some things have changed, both in Tuna and on the stage. There are three actors, dividing the characters into equal sets of seven; Jaston Williams is directing; and a celebrity murder is on the front page. There are also UFO sightings, a fat, overbearing talk show host and more, promising reviews like "hilarious, a tribute to the art of acting" and "sharp, satiric and funny" will also be reignited.

"Some people tend to think of the shows as an act for Joe Sears and myself, but the reality is that 'Greater Tuna' is a seriously constructed play produced all over the country with other actors," Williams says. "I can say, 'I know these characters when I see them,' and I see them in this wonderful cast we have decided to work with."

Tim Leavon, the kid who always made everyone laugh growing up in Alabama, plays Vera Carp, all of the Bumiller children, the town mortician and a new character named Ronnie. A veteran of a community theater production of "Greater Tuna," he thought "no way" when he saw a casting notice in Los Angeles. He was thrilled to be the only non-Texan cast.

"Now I'm putting on pantyhose backstage and wondering what I'm doing with my life!"

Leavon says the characters aren't just found in Texas but all over the South, giving him a leg up on capturing "the very specific type of humor."

"I know these people. I know the delivery," he says. "A lot of my characters are somewhat based on people I grew up with. It's a chance to honor them -- or get even."

-- Becca Martin-Brown

bmartin@nwadg.com

NAN What's Up on 04/21/2017

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