The population of Tuna, third smallest town in Texas, has suddenly skyrocketed.
From two to three.
Longtime fans of “Greater Tuna” know the setup: Every character in the beloved play — man, woman, child, even animal — is brought to life by just two funny and facile actors, Joe Sears and Jaston Williams.
But in the “rebooted” production of “Greater Tuna,” Wednesday and Thursday at Bass Hall, there will be three men onstage playing a total of 21 characters.
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Williams, who co-created the show more than 25 years ago and portrayed half of the town’s pixilated population, is directing the show.
The new stars are Ryan Bailey, Tim Leavon and Will Mercer. Each has starred in various “Tuna” productions in the past. But why three actors instead of the usual two? It was Williams’ idea.
“I would be lying if I said there wasn’t initially some resistance,” says Denton Yockey, one of the producers. “From an artistic standpoint, one of the things that always made it so attractive was it was about two actors, virtuoso performances, playing all the characters.”
The dynamic of two actors doing everything, sometimes stretching the boundaries of what’s humanly possible, has long been one of the show’s major selling points.
“The magic of the fast costume changes and everything like that — no one wanted to risk losing that,” Yockey says. “But what we’ve found is that it really doesn’t go away with this version.
“Jaston had three actors he thought could serve the play in more interesting ways than what had been done before. We even discussed the idea of putting the three actors onstage at the same time.”
As a result, some new characters have been added to the mix.
“One is the Tuna High School football coach, who formerly was just a voiceover,” Yockey says. “And then there’s Ronnie Pert, the OKKK radio station assistant, who previously was only referenced and handed materials in pantomime. Now he’s fully realized. Who knew that Ronnie had a mullet?”
Many Fort Worth theatergoers will be familiar with Yockey. He was president and executive producer of Casa Mañana from 1997 to 2008.
Casa Mañana and Bass Hall partnered in bringing “Tuna” to Fort Worth so many times during those years that Yockey became good friends with Sears and Williams. Now Yockey, who’s based in Jacksonville, Fla., runs one of the two companies that stages “Tuna” productions all over the country.
Yockey says that Williams, who’s directing for the first time, has breathed new life into a production that was already pretty close to perfect.
“The great thing about Jaston,” Yockey says, “is he’s able to be faithful to the source material, which he knows so well as the writer and actor and co-creator, and yet at the same time he is open to other interpretations and other ideas.
“He has taken a look at this, freshened it up a bit and sharpened a few points in the show for a contemporary audience. I invite those who have seen the show before to come and see it again.
“There will be times when they will look at these talented new actors and feel like they’re still seeing Joe and Jaston up there. But there also will be sections that feel a little different. It’s exciting.”
“Greater Tuna” originated at a Sixth Street cabaret in Austin in 1981, had its off-Broadway premiere in 1982. It spawned three follow-up plays and dozens of touring productions.
Yockey believes that “Greater Tuna” endures because it’s a timeless commentary about ourselves.
“It’s about everything that’s still going on today,” he says. “Who would have known 25 years ago that we’d still be dealing with gun control and we’d still have issues with books being censored and that the KKK would still be around?
“All of these are topics in this play and we’re still examining them through these characters who inhabit this small fictional town in Texas. That’s why it still plays well today.”
- 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday
- Bass Hall
- Fourth and Calhoun streets, Fort Worth
- 817-212-4280, www.basshall.com