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Joe Sears (far left and far right) and Jaston Williams (middle), the creative forces of the zany cast of characters from "A Greater Tuna" are bringing their new comedy, "Tuna Does Vegas" to the historic Perot Theater in Texarkana for five performances Oct. 3 through Oct. 5.
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Tuna Does Vegas - with a stop in Texarkana

'Sit on the roof. Sit on the hood. Drive slowly. Just come on up to see us!'

By TERRY MATHEWS, News-Telegram Arts Editor

Sept. 25, 2008 - With the high cost of gasoline and ticket prices going through the roof, you might think twice before driving to Texarkana to see a play.

However, when the play you're going to see is "Tuna Does Vegas," you should break open the piggy bank and make plans to head north sometime during the weekend of Oct. 3 through Oct. 5.

"Greater Tuna," the hysterical look at life in a small town, premiered in 1982, with Joe Sears and Jaston Williams playing the roles of 24 citizens of Tuna, the third smallest town in Texas, where the "Lions Club is too liberal and Patsy Cline never dies."

The show debuted in Austin and opened off-Broadway in 1982. By 1985, the play had become one of the most produced plays in the United States with schools, colleges, community and professional theatres anxious to add the hit comedy to their repertoire.

Sears and Williams have since added two holiday-themed plays, "A Greater Tuna Christmas" and "Red, White and Tuna," both playing to wide and enthusiastic audiences.

"We've done thousands and thousands of performances," Williams said in a telephone interview from his Austin home Wednesday morning. "We love what we do and we're really, really lucky to still be doing it after all these years."

Their long run is made even more remarkable when you consider that Sears and Williams have created all the characters, wrote the scripts and make more than 30 lightning-fast costume changes during the show.

"I have a friend who is a professor of theater," Williams said. "He said they teach courses that say you can't do what we do. We never ceased to be amazed at it all."

Williams loves performing before a live audience.

"We were in College Station recently with the new show and they just loved us in the first act," he explained. "I went back stage and told Joe I wondered what was going to happen once we left Tuna and hit the strip in Vegas. Will they turn on us? That's the beauty of live theater."

Williams acknowledges the challenges that come with performing live.

"It doesn't matter how good you were on Saturday night," he said. "You have to start all over for the Sunday matinee."

Williams said he and Sears work hard to make each performance as fresh and lively as possible.

"Tickets aren't cheap," he said. "We try really hard to make it worth people's time and money at each show."

Some of the more notable characters that Williams plays are Vera Carp, Petey Fisk and Didi Snavely.

Williams says all the characters come with a story.

Vera Carp is the town snob. She has more money than God. She's vice president of the Smut-Snatchers of the New Order, and according to Williams, "She likes Sarah Palin, but she thinks the governor is awfully liberal," Williams says.

Not only is Vera a snob, she also pinches pennies until they bleed.

"Vera lived in California for a while," Williams said. "You can't hit your kids in California, so in order to keep them in line, she took to driving all the way to Arizona, but gas just got too expensive, so she sang a few lines of 'By the Time I Get to Phoenix' and that shut them right up."

Petey Fisk is employed by the Greater Tuna Humane Society. He is always making a pitch on OKKK, Tuna's radio station, to save the animals.

When asked which character is his favorite, Williams says he favors Didi Snavely, owner of Didi's Used Weapons.

"I just love Didi," Williams said. "But she couldn't care less if I love her or not. Didi was raised on the Jacksboro Highway, just outside of Fort Worth. She smokes Raleigh cigarettes, you know, the ones with the coupons. She lives for the day when she can get that stand-up lamp."

One of the series' most hilarious moments comes in "A Tuna Christmas," when Didi is singing a Christmas carol while puffing away. Didi sings along, inhales and a dead silence envelopes the theater. Just when the audience thinks Williams has forgotten the words to the song, Didi exhales and picks up where she left off, as if it was perfectly natural to have a five-second pause between "Don we now" and "our gay apparel."

Williams says he played the scene with the pause for the first time in rehearsal. "It just came to me to have her keep smoking while singing the song. Everyone liked it and said, 'Keep it! Keep it! For God's sake keep it!' So it became part of Didi's character in all the plays."

Sears and Williams are bringing Didi, Vera, Petey, Bertha Bumiller (played by Sears), Aunt Pearl Burras, (Sears), OKKK disc jockey Thurston Wheelis (Sears) and some 20 other characters to Texarkana for five performances of their latest hit, "Tuna Does Vegas."

"We're having so much fun with the new show," Williams said. "It's set at the Hula Chateau Resort and Spa. In the early days of Vegas, the Hula used to be called the Atomic Lodge, and it featured the Bombs Away Grill."

"Tuna Does Vegas" runs Friday through Sunday, Oct. 3-5 at the Historic Perot Theatre in downtown Texarkana.

Call 903-792-4992 for more information or visit the Texarkana Regional Arts and Humanities Council's website at:

www.trahc.org.

Tickets range from $6 - $42.

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Editor's note: Williams has recorded a special message just for News-Telegram readers. Find it at

www.ssnewstelegram.com, along with a clip featuring Williams as Vera Carp in "A Tuna Christmas."

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