‘A Tuna Christmas’ Brings a Texas Holiday Classic Back to ZACH Theatre

by Britni Rachal on November 8, 2017 in Entertainment, Theatre, Living Texas, Austin,
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Hilarious, brightly colored, quirky, Texas-themed comedy sums up this year’s ‘A Tuna Christmas’ at ZACH Theatre. The Texas holiday favorite doesn’t disappoint, keeping the audience entertained, with only three actors portraying 25 characters in the fictional small town of Tuna, Texas.

The play begins at Tuna’s radio station, OKKK, where all three cast members are on stage portraying radio station announcers – one of them wearing a t-shirt with the words “Proud Aggie Mom” along with Longhorn pajama pants. From that point on, the costumes by Broadway designer Linda Fisher only get better and more creative.

Tim Casper and Will Mercer are two of only three actors playing all 25 characters in ‘A Tuna Christmas’ through December 31 at Austin’s ZACH Theatre.
Photo Kirk Tuck

Will Mercer and Ryan H. Bailey
Photo Kirk Tuck

Playing out during the 24 hours before Christmas, all comedic hell breaks loose with the local business owner of a used weapons shop decking her halls with grenades and switchblades. Meanwhile, Baptist extraordinaire Vera Carp has visions of winning the local Yard Display contest dancing through her head, but a mysterious Christmas phantom is damaging people’s decorations and threatens to shatter her dream.

Never a dull moment indeed, as throughout scene changes unique and humorous Christmas trees are displayed. My favorite prop was the Christmas tree with the gas mask on top. The attention to detail from set designer Michael Krauss, sound designer Ken Huncovksy and the entire ZACH crew is apparent in all aspects of the play. Even the “stage elves” that help to move scene decorations provide the audience with reasons for laughter.

Tim Casper as Vera Carp.
Photo Kirk Tuck

Will Mercer and Ryan H. Bailey.
Photo Kirk Tuck

The play is under the direction of Tuna co-creator and Austin icon Jaston Williams, who began writing the Tuna plays back in the 1980s and, with his performances, gave life to and immortalized characters such as Vera Carp and Didi Snavely . Carrying on the grand tradition of Williams and his longtime creative partner Joe Sears of split-second costume changes, in ZACH’s 2017 production, actors Ryan H. Bailey, Tim Casper and Will Mercer portray the entire town of Tuna with more than two dozen quirky characters. Before bringing it home to Austin, all three actors recently completed a hit tour of the new and reimagined ‘Greater Tuna.’

Because of the success, one of the actors had in ‘Greater Tuna,’ fans receive a new surprise in this year’s holiday production. For the first time, an undertaker from ‘Greater Tuna’ appears in ‘A Tuna Christmas.’ Williams decided to add in a part for the undertaker in this year’s play after one of the ‘Greater Tuna’ actors did such a great job at portraying the undertaker. That is the only change made to this beloved holiday evergreen.

The small change seemed well received by the audience, with the entire room standing up after the closing act. The Texas classic is so popular that one family flew in to Austin from Florida just to see it and stopped by to chat with Williams in the audience.

“I was astounded. That always amazes me,” said Williams. “It’s wonderful to realize that you affect people in such a way that they’d get on a plane to come and see your work.” Williams believes the continued popularity of ‘A Tuna Christmas’ is because the play has a lot of heart.

Definitely a “feel good” comedy for the holidays, ‘A Tuna Christmas’ is also a reminder that the holiday season doesn’t always go perfectly, but maybe everything is okay in the end.

The play would make for a great family outing—just remember it’s only recommended for ages 12 and up. It is a definite must-see for an Austin Christmas. Beautiful country Christmas music is played before the show, during the intermission and after the show, which is sure to get any “Grinch” into the holiday spirit.

‘A Tuna Christmas’ runs through December 31 and is approximately two hours, including one 20-minute intermission
Tickets start at $25.