Williamston Theatre, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

I don’t know how Shakespeare came to mind when I was sitting down to write an update blog about one of my favorite places on the planet – Williamston Theatre (WT) in downtown Williamston, Michigan.

True, the theatre – now an integral part of the community landscape – performs Shakespeare now and then. And, true, Aral Gribble, one of the two powerhouse actors in the current production – Red, White and Tuna – appeared in The Complete Works of Williams Shakespeare (Abridged) two summers ago.

Apparently, I tend to make the connection when I see Gribble in a WT play “Tuna’s” a remote connection, I’ll agree, but the comedy and laughs garnered when watching Gribble perform are a match.  Gribble was great, as well, in this season’s  Dead Man’s Shoes.

OK, now you know that Williamston Theatre is featuring Aral Gribble in Red, White and Tuna (July 12-Aug. 19). And, you know I’m going to tell you some of my favorite things about Williamston Theatre.

Well, one of those favorites is Wayne David Parker, the other half of the tuneful “Tuna” twosome. I truly enjoyed Wayne David Parker in Talley’s Folly – one of my first WT experiences — and in subsequent shows.  Parker and Gribble gained a sizable local fan base in last year’s Greater Tuna; and I hear tell they’ll bring us Tuna Does Vegas next year.

Those fans were certainly out in force on July 12, when the theatre opened this production run. It’s always fun to attend the very first night, when you can participate in audience comment and suggestions afterward.  I’d guess from the near sell-out crowd, that lots of folks are getting hooked as we did, and putting the first WT night on their favorites list.

The Tuna series has an interesting background – going back three decades. Playwrights Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard debuted Greater Tuna in 1981, with off-Broadway following in 1982.  The wildly successful plays feature two men; and the actors are constantly engaged in the challenge of playing over 20 character roles – all adding to the comedic atmosphere.

If you want laughs, go see a Tuna production. Especially, though, go to a Tuna production at Williamston Theatre. Gribble and Parker continue to develop these laugh-a-minute characters with each Tuna.

 Red, White and Tuna as described on the WT website:

Reprising their roles from our smash-hit production of Greater Tuna, the hilarious team of Aral Gribble and Wayne David Parker return for the outrageous summertime sequel, once again portraying the entire population of the town in this quick-change comedy. The 4th of July in Tuna, Texas means it’s time for the Tuna High School Class Reunion, and the return of some of your favorite Tuna residents, like Petey Fisk and Reverend Spikes, as well as some outlandish newcomers! You won’t want to miss this loving, side-splitting satire of life where the Lion’s Club is too liberal and Patsy Cline never dies.

You can catch up with the Tuna trilogy on Wikipedia; and there’s even a Tuna web “General Store” where you can order Tuna DVDs, tees, and other sundry Tuna souvenirs.

Red, White and Tuna ends the 2011-2012 season at WT. It seems a blink of an eye ago that I posted the plays for this year. The new 2012-2013 season begins Sept. 20 (See schedule at end of article) with boom.

First, though, more favorite WT things.

I’ve grown to appreciate following the WT co-founders: John Lepard (executive director); Tony Casselli (artistic director); Chris Purchis (managing director); and Emily Sutton-Smith (development director).

It’s been fun getting to know them over the past four years, since I first interviewed John Lepard (director of Red, White and Tuna) in 2008 for the Fowlerville News  & Views. I had no concept of the adventure that would unfold.  More articles for Livingston Talk (now The Livingston Post, Maria Stuart, editor).  More wonderful plays attended.

This has been my first experience being a loyal fan for a theatre company. While I dabbled in theatre a wee bit in college, this aspect of the arts was mostly sidelined for me in the intervening years.  I’m grateful, therefore, for the opportunity to delve once again into this magical entertainment realm.

I love having Williamston Theatre and company as a cornerstone feature of the Williamston Community for people across mid-Michigan to enjoy.  I appreciate the artistic expression of these professional actors. I love the stories told, the life lessons revisited, the wisdom and insight shared via this live medium.

Even though I know the impact of live theatre, I’ve twice wished that we could bottle up John Lepard’s This Wonderful Life to enjoy each Christmas, along with the  James Stewart movie.  Sorry, can’t be helped. I always have to put the plug in for my favorite WT wish.

That’s one example of how live theatre can affect you. The actors, of course, will tell you that live theatre is live theatre for the very reason of being live. You can’t bottle it up and put it on a shelf like a movie film.   (However, I sure do love those You Tube snippets).

I love being able to create an event with friends, by attending a WT play, with dinner before or a nightcap after at a local restaurant. I’ll give a little plug here for the newest on the block, Tavern 109 downtown. It was great grabbing a coffee and dessert after the Tuna performance — with live music playing – in a relaxed pub atmosphere, for a few moments of conversation.

Well, we’ll have lots to discuss over the next WT season. Wow, can it be the seventh? I asked Williamston Theatre Artistic Director Tony Caselli about the new shows:

I love our lineup for next season,” Caselli says.  “The mix of comedy and serious, I think, is just right, and what I love the most is that each of the stories, at it’s core, is a celebration of life – and not just life, but people choosing to move through life together. That theme is one that we love to explore, and it resonates through the whole season.”

Here’s the lineup  for 2012-2013 with official descriptions:


by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb — September 20 – October 21

Something is about to explode.  A grad student’s online personal ad lures a mysterious journalism student to his subterranean research lab for a “casual encounter”, but there’s nothing casual about this particular evening!  She discovers that he actually fears the end of the world is at hand… and from there things get weird!  Will they survive?  Will their casual encounter lead to another big bang?  What’s going on in the fishbowl?  What’s our place in the universe?  And who is that woman playing the timpani!?  This epic and intimate comedy spans billions of years and will keep you laughing ‘til the unexpected end!  (Contains Mature Language and Themes)



by Joe Zettelmaier — November 15 – December 23
A World Premiere

It’s a cold Christmas Eve in London, and Ebenezer Scrooge sits in a hospital room. 15 years have passed since his miraculous transformation by the Ghosts of Christmas. Now renowned for his generosity and selflessness, his spirit still yearns to bring cheer to the world, but his flesh is weak. Such a little thing isn’t likely to stop the old man, though, for he has a plan up his sleeve that he hasn’t shared with his two troubled companions – Miss Poole, the nurse assigned to his care, and Tim Cratchit, recently returned from war in America.  Over the course of the evening, these two lost souls bear witness to events they do not fully understand as the spirit of Christmas descends on Ebenezer once again.


End Days

by Deborah Zoe Laufer — January 24 – February 24, 2013

It’s 2003, and sixteen-year-old Rachel Stein is having a bad year. Her father hasn’t changed out of his pajamas since 9/11. Her mother has begun a close, personal relationship with Jesus. Her new neighbor, a sixteen-year-old Elvis impersonator, has fallen for her hard. And the Apocalypse is coming Wednesday. Her only hope is that Stephen Hawking will save them all.  Hilariously funny and achingly poignant, End Days takes us on a wonderful journey exploring love, loss and the healing power of family.  (Contains Mature Language and Themes)


Shirley Valentine

by Willy Russell — March 21 – April 21, 2013

What can you do when you realize that you’ve hit middle age, and your life has been shaped by choices made by everyone except you?  The heroine in this actor’s tour-de-force is an ordinary middle class English housewife. As she prepares chips and egg for dinner, she ruminates on her life and tells the wall about her husband, her children, her past, and an invitation from a girlfriend to join her on holiday in Greece to search for romance and adventure. Ultimately, Shirley does … and begins the process of shaping her life into something wonderful. This one-woman play became an instant classic the minute it premiered!  (Contains Mature Themes)



by Annie Martin — May 16 – June 16, 2013
A World Premiere

The worst part of a hospital waiting room is normally the waiting but, in the midst of a prolonged family medical crisis, Kathryn Fuller regards the waiting room as a welcome refuge from her increasingly chaotic life. However, the real world quickly invades her new home away from home, and she’s surrounded with her over-the-top family life, rebellious, love-struck daughter and a mysterious stranger who, oddly, shows up at the same time every night.  What happens when the universe decides our lives need a shaking up, whether we like it or not?  Will Kathryn get drawn into the ridiculous comedy, drama, and potential romance swirling around her beloved waiting room, or will she burrow deeper into her seclusion from the world?  (Contains Mature Language)


Tuna Does Vegas

by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears, Ed Howard – July 11 – August 18, 2013

Aral Gribble and Wayne David Parker reunite for the finale of our “Tuna Trilogy”.  Join the lovable and eccentric characters from the ‘third smallest town in Texas’ as they take a rambling romp in Sin City. The hilarity begins when oddball-conservative radio host Arles Struvie announces on air that he and his wife Bertha Bumiller are heading to Vegas to renew their wedding vows…but everyone in Tuna, Texas goes along for the ride!  Tuna Does Vegas is both an affectionate comment on small-town life as well as a hilarious satire of the same. The eclectic band of citizens that make up this town are portrayed by only two actors, making this send-up on life in rural America even more delightful as they depict all of the inhabitants of Tuna — men, women, Vegas showgirls, Elvis impersonators and more!


Season Voucher Books, with all the benefits that go with them – preferred seating, early reservation priviledges and discounts on tickets – will go on sale in August 2012! Call (517) 655-7469 to be added to our mailing list to receive our Season Brochure. Click here for more information.


Wikipedia: Greater Tuna

Greater Tuna Store

Lansing State Journal: July Heralds  the return of ‘Tuna’ in  Williamston

Lansing State Journal: Williamston Theatre remains vibrant amid bad economy

Lansing City Pulse: Return of the Texas twosome

Encore Michigan: Dynamic Duo returns to Tuna, Texas, and to Williasmston Theatre

Williamston Theatre: Red, White and Tuna

Encore MichiganWilliamston Theatre returns to Tuna, Texas for the summer

Purple  Rose Theatre: Wayne David Parker

Williamson Theatre Show Season 2012-2013

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