Venue Details

Lucie Stern Theatre
1305 Middlefield Rd. Palo Alto, CA 94301
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Quotes & Highlights

“It’s impossible not to laugh!” —Newsday


Greater Tuna was developed out of a party skit 27 years ago. Its early performance history saw the show go from Austin, Texas in 1981 to touring coast to coast before packed houses in San Francisco, Atlanta, Houston and Hartford. It wasn’t long before original stars Joe Sears and Jaston Williams found themselves performing Greater Tuna for over a year Off-Broadway at Circle in the Square Theatre. This successful New York run lead to an HBO Special produced by Norman Lear in 1984 which took the “Tuna” phenomenon to every city in America.

By 1985, Greater Tuna was the most produced play in the United States with schools, colleges, community and professional theatres all anxious to add the hit comedy to their repertoire.  Greater Tuna’s popularity crossed the Atlantic in 1988 as the highlight of Scotland’s famed Edinburgh Festival. Back at home, the Marines Memorial Theatre in San Francisco began a local production of Greater Tuna which ran continuously for a record-breaking seven years. While Greater Tuna was vastly produced throughout the United States and elsewhere, it was the extended run in San Francisco followed by an exclusive engagement in Las Vegas that kept Greater Tuna off the stages of many Bay Area theatre companies until only recently.

The popularity of Greater Tuna has even extended to the most distinguished home in the country, with Command Performances at the White House upon the invitation of President and Mrs. George H. W. Bush in 1990 and again in 1991.  

According to Bill Olson, the director of the Palo Alto Players’ production and one half of its talented cast, Greater Tuna is a deceptively simple show.  It’s just a day in the life of a small west Texas town.  “Of course, there are a few complications,” says Olson, “like the fact that only two actors play all twenty roles.” Olson, a member of Actors Equity Association, finds real challenge in that.  “The actors need to work diligently so that the core of every character stands out as unique and with a life of its own. This must be accomplished without turning these people—as crazy and bizarre as they may be—into caricatures.”  As directors of satire and comedy know, it’s a very fine line to walk but Olson believes he has a gauge for finding the perfect balance:  “One of the greatest temptations as a director is to push the comedy at the expense of allowing the characters to have some weight and reality.  While the audience should laugh, they should identify a little, too, even if they don’t expect to.”

Bill Olson’s affiliation with Palo Alto Players spans 20 years and 20 seasons. His first role with the company was in 1989 as the lead character of Eugene in Neil Simon’s Biloxi Blues. Years later, Bill was one of a talented threesome delighting audiences in The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). Most recently, he was seen as Elyot in the 2006 Palo Alto Players production of the Noel Coward classic comedy, Private Lives. As a performer throughout the Bay Area, Olson’s other work includes roles for San Jose Stage Company, TheatreWorks, Berkeley Playhouse Theatre, 42nd Street Moon, and Calaveras Repertory Theatre.  He has also performed extensively with Lunatique Fantastique, the Bay Area’s premiere puppetry troupe and is a certified teacher of the Alexander Technique. Bill Olson is a Palo Alto resident.

Joining Olson onstage is Bay Area actor Derek McCaw of Gilroy. A 20-year veteran of ComedySportz San Jose, Derek also writes comics and teaches Drama at Notre Dame High School in San Jose. He has played himself in _The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), The Complete History of America (Abridged) and The Bible (Abridged)_ for both City Lights and Calaveras Repertory. Other roles include Dr. Scott in the Rocky Horror Show, Douglas in The Waiting Room, Mr. Bumble in A Christmas Twist and Claudius in Hamlet.

For McCaw, auditioning for the Palo Alto Players’ production of Greater Tuna was a must.  “This production of Greater Tuna takes care of two professional goals I’ve had for at least a decade: be in this show and work with Bill Olson.” The two are friends.  Both have done similar roles and both have worked for the same theater companies, but never at the same time.  ”To make Greater Tuna work, you have to have chemistry and respect for the other actor,” observes McCaw.  “This production has that by the bucket-load. It does. It does. It does!”  

Olson and McCaw believe that the audience not only will howl at the humorous characters and situations in which the denizens of Tuna find themselves, but also, by the end of the evening, will

care about these characters, too.  Together, Olson and McCaw play the following 20 characters:

Charlene Bumiller – Daughter of Hank and Bertha Bumiller, and sister to Stanley and Jody

Jody Bumiller – Youngest child of Bertha Bumiller, followed constantly by “eight to ten dogs”

Stanley Bumiller – Fresh from reform school; twin to Charlene

Vera Carp – Town snob and vice president of the Smut-Snatchers of the New Order

Petey Fisk – Employee of the Greater Tuna Humane Society

Didi Snavely – Owner of Didi’s Used Weapons (“If we can’t kill it, it’s immortal.”)

Arles Struvie – A disc jockey at radio station OKKK

Chad Hartford – A reporter from Houston who comes to interview Bertha

Phinas Blye-  A politician from Indiana who runs for City Council

Harold Dean Lattimer – OKKK’s weatherman

Bertha Bumiller – Wife of Hank and mother to Jody, Stanley, and

Charlene; member of the Smut Snatchers of the New Order

Hank Bumiller

Pearl Burras – Aunt to Bertha and addicted to killing dogs

Leonard Childers – Station Manager of OKKK

Sheriff Givens

Elmer Watkins – Head of the local chapter of the KKK, dedicated to making the town safe “for the right kind of people”

Yippy the dog

R.R. Snavely – UFOlogist, town drunk, and husband to Didi

The Reverend Spikes – President of the Smut Snatchers of the New Order

Thurston Wheelis – A disc jockey at radio station OKKK

Palo Alto Players resident scenic designer Kuo-Hao Lo has created the rural Texas world that is the fictional west Texas town.  Costume design for the quick changes by two actors is by resident costumer Mary Cravens with wig design by Rande Harris.  Carolyn Foot is the lighting designer and master electrician for Greater Tuna and George Mauro is its sound designer.  Pat Tyler is properties designer.  Stage management is by Zoe Levine Sporer with Corrie Borris as assistant director to Bill Olson.

According to Palo Alto Players Executive Director, Peter Bliznick, having Greater Tuna as the second offering in Palo Alto Players’ 78th season is ideal programming with the right actors and the right script at the right time.   “Greater Tuna is great fun and such a delightful escape from reality,” something Bliznick is dedicated to having Palo Alto Players provide participants and audience alike. “In a way it is ironic to be doing this particular comedy right now”, says Bliznick.  “Just as we as a nation say goodbye to Texas’ most famous small town Texan, we get a wonderful chance to meet 20 new ones!”

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