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Williams and Sears bring back the magic

By JIM BUTLER

Eagle Staff Writer

Special to The Eagle

Jaston Williams as Charlie

If Jaston Williams ever gets tired of working with Joe Sears, he’d have no problem making it in standup comedy. In fact, Letterman and Leno could be forced into retirement.

In a phone interview from a Fort Worth hotel, Williams spouted one-liner after one-liner. If this story seems confusing, it’s because the writer was laughing too hard to make comprehensible notes.

The Brazos Valley is well-acquainted with Williams and Sears, the twosome behind “Greater Tuna” and its sequels: “A Tuna Christmas” and “Red, White and Tuna.” The yule show has been on the MSC OPAS season schedule twice, and the others once each.

But this visit will showcase the actors in a completely different light. In the “Tuna” plays, Williams and Sears each play a dozen or so characters, male and female. In “The Foreigner,” Larry Shue’s rib-splitting comedy, the Tuna guys will be joined by a full cast.

Williams plays Charlie, a shy Englishman who agrees to accompany his friend Froggy on a trip to backwoods Georgia only on the condition that no one bothers him.

“Playing one character is like a day off,” Williams said. “I keep wanting to run off stage and put on a dress.”

But Sears, whose Aunt Pearl is arguably the heart and sole(sic) of Tuna, gets the dress. He plays Betty Meeks, owner of the hunting lodge where Charlie and Froggy stay.

“Betty is not like any Tuna character,” Williams said. “When I asked Joe if he wanted to do ‘The Foreigner’ and play Betty, he asked what she was like. I said, ‘She’s a pear,’ and he agreed to do it.”

The way Charlie avoids interacting with the folks at the hunting lodge by pretending he doesn’t understand English, a ploy dreamed up by Froggy.

“I love that Charlie goes through profound changes,” Williams said. “In the beginning, he feels worthless and useless. By the end, his confidence is amazing. He is literally climbing the walls. In fact, I told the producers, ‘If you build me a wall I can climb, I’ll climb it.’ It’s a pretty physical workout.”

Williams’ brother, Corky, plays Owen Musser, one of the two villains.

“My brother is proof that I’m not the craziest person in my family,” Williams said. “He is Yosemite Sam in person. One time during the wall-climbing scene, Corky got lost in the script, so he just walked off the stage. The crew grabbed him and threw him back, and I chased him all around the set.”

One of the show’s funniest scenes involves Ellard, a half-wit handyman, trying to teach Charlie how to speak English.

“I love that scene,” Williams said. “This poor, idiot kid decides that he can teach Charlie English. But they come out of that with a friendship and love. Nobody ever paid attention to Ellard or Charlie.”

Williams and Sears have been working together since meeting in Austin in 1983. “Greater Tuna” grew out of a short skit that the two wrote for a party. The play became a huge hit that played Broadway and spawned two sequels. The 20th anniversary tour of “Greater Tuna” opened the season for MSC OPAS in 2002.

Sears spends his summer in Cody, Wyo., where he has started a theater company.

“Joe called me a couple of weeks ago from Yellowstone Park,” Williams said. “He said a pine tree fell on his car. If it had been a few feet off, I’d be doing a one-man show.”

Williams was doing some promotional appearances in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex when he had an epiphany.

“I was sitting in the largest traffic jam I’d ever seen on the Dallas freeway and I suddenly realized why I do this,” he said. “I do it for the glamor.”

The rest of the cast consists of Catherine Simms as Kathleen Crouser, Richard Jones as Froggy, Tim Mateer as Ellard and Robert Newell as Rev. David Marshall Lee.

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday in Rudder Auditorium. Tickets are $29-$48 at the MSC box office, 845-1234.

• Jim Butler’s e-mail address is jbutler@theeagle.com.

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