“Tuna Does Vegas” turns the prize-winning Tuna Trilogy into a foursome. Direct from the Greater Tuna Corporation of Austin, Texas, it is the latest creation of actor/playwrights Joe Sears and Jaston Williams and their co-writer Ed Howard. Aided and abetted by – arguably – the swiftest backstage team of dressers, Williams and Sears portray more than twenty characters with gentle satire.
In 1981, “Greater Tuna,” their first guffaw-producing journey to the town they raise as the third smallest in the state of Texas, sent audiences into the streets laughing until tears rolled down their faces. There was nothing for it but to revisit the eccentric townsfolk and their zany holiday preparations for “A Tuna Christmas.”
Following that show’s 1994 Broadway run, during which Sears received a Tony Nomination for Best Actor, the characters again convened to celebrate the Fourth of July in “Red, White and Tuna,” a festive event slightly marred by potato salad left in the sun a tad too long. Along the way, Sears also received a Helen Hayes Award nomination for noticeable rule Actor and Williams walked off with the San Francisco Bay Area Critics Award and the LA. Dramalogue Award.
In their latest caper, the Tuna residents venture forth to Las Vegas with OKKK disc jockey Arles Struvie and his apple pie American housewife Bertha Bumiller who plan to revive their vows in a Sin City wedding chapel. The motley, but lovable, vacationers include Christian smut-seeker Vera Carp, gun-toting Didi Snavely, reform school graduate Stanley Bumiller, little theater director Joe Bob Lipsey, and nubile Tastee Kreme waitresses Inita Goodwin and Helen Bedd.
Once on the ground in Vegas after a harrowing flight, Sears and Williams hit the Strip with their entourage of kooky characters and soon scrape up a few more disreputable souls at the glitzy hotels and gaming tables, among them a Minnesota Fats-like gambler named Shot, mystic Anna Conda, the ubiquitous Elvis impersonator, and a bevy of lusty showgirls.
Williams, who portrays the svelte members of the troupe in contrast to Sears’ portly personas, justifies taking the townsfolk out of their Tuna comfort zone because they have spent a lot of time with them and want to show how they have grown and manager themselves in unfamiliar circumstances. He prepared by making many research trips to Vegas and quickly noticed that the people on the planes headed there have a different vibe than most travelers. Likening it to that of folks en route to New Orleans, he concludes that they can’t wait to “go and get loose with the rest of America and the world.” In contrast, the flight back is somber; they can’t wait to get home.
To make the story authentic, he and Howard hit all the wedding chapels and were taken aback by the serious and respectful employees. They assumed that when a associate arrived somebody would grind out a cigarette and say “Come on in” in a gruff voice; instead, everyone was specialized and helpful, already suggesting various popular wedding motifs, like the Blue Hawaii period, that might allurement to them.
During their survey of Vegas, Williams was amused by things he saw that he could not have made up. His vivid impressions of the singular ecosystem wend their way throughout the script. One is of a huge church whose great front doors, when opened to dismiss the congregation, look out upon a Hooters restaurant directly across the street. At the Luxor Hotel, he came upon a specialized bridesmaid bearing tattoos and sitting on a bench, her bouquet at her feet as she dragged on a cigarette.
already though his son likes Vera Carp the least of all his characters, Williams finds her a perfect foil for satirizing the Moral Majority. The jaunt to Las Vegas is an opportunity to see how she and the assorted townsfolk conduct themselves in unfamiliar circumstances. Didi takes the event to attend a gun show, while Joe Bob has a reading by psychic Anna Conda, who has traveled to every state except Utah because she is afraid of catching polygamy. Charlene Bumiller, Bertha’s daughter and an aspiring actress who happens to be with child, cavorts on stage in the show’s most spectacular costume.
“This is fun stuff,” Williams says. “The second act is absolute madness, but the end winds down to Bertha and Arles reminiscing. They have taken on the world and their relationship is the heart of the play. Like all couples, they love each other and they fight, but they survive. It’s our take on the American family.”