‘Greater Tuna’ headed to Sumrall

By HASKEL BURNS,

A piece of off-Broadway magic – a story about a place “where the Lion’s Club is too liberal and Patsy Cline never dies” – is making its way to Sumrall via the Sumrall Community Theater.

“Greater Tuna,” a comedic play set in Texas’ fictional third-smallest town of Tuna, will be presented for four days straight – July 18, 19, 20 and 21 – at the Sumrall High School Performing Arts Center. Actors Dennis Granberry and Bill Nix will portray more than 20 different characters ranging from teenagers to little old ladies in the story, offering a slice of small-town Southern life and satire.

Rashelle Steinhauer, who has participated as an actor, director, and producer of several productions in the Hattiesburg area, will be the director for “Greater Tuna.”

“The story is about the radio station down there, which is OKKK,” said Dr. Stephen Beam, who serves as president of the Sumrall Community Theater Board. “OKKK has 275 watts, so it’s really small.

“It’s a typical day in the life of this small town. There’s a lot of slapstick stuff in this one; just really funny stuff.”

The July 18 and 19 shows will start at 6:30 p.m. and will serve as a dinner theater, with meals provided by Main Street Café in Collins. Tickets for those shows are $25 and include the dinner.

Matinees begin at 2 p.m. for the July 20 and 21 shows. Tickets for the matinees are $15, and although those shows don’t include dinner, a concession stand will be available.

Tickets are available at The Bank: Judy’s Flowers & Antiques, Plum Trophy Sales, Swilley Vanilli, and Sumrall Nutrition Club. Tickets also can be purchased by phone at (601) 402-4216 or (601) 270-5328.

“Greater Tuna” is the first in a series of four comedic plays written by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard. The play debuted in the fall of 1981 in Austin, Texas, and had its off-Broadway premiere in 1982.

The original cast of characters was performed by Willams and Sears, with Williams portraying such characters as Charlene Bumiller and Vera Carp. Sears took over characters including Pearl Burras, Sheriff Givens, and Elmer Watkins.

“It’s been very, very popular for many years,” Beam said. “I first saw it in 1987 at USM’s summer theater series, and Dawn and I have seen it once since then, and it never gets old.”

“Greater Tuna” will be the third production of the Sumrall Community Theater, which Beam – who has starred in several productions of the Hattiesburg Civic Light Orchestra – started about a year ago.

“It was my dream for several years,” said Beam, who is married to Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Dawn Beam. “We moved to Sumrall about 12 years ago and thought about it for a while, but everything else seemed to intercede and there didn’t seem to be time.

“But I wanted to do it to bring the arts and the performing theater to Sumrall, because it’s such an up-and-coming town, and there’s a lot of things going on and an excellent school system. So I talked to some people in town and there was interest in it, and that’s why we started the association.”

That interest was proven by the attendance to the theater’s first two plays, which were musicals held in July and December of last year.

“They either were sellouts or near-sellouts for all the productions, and that was even in some inclement weather,” Beam said. “So I think it’s something the people here enjoy, and I thoroughly enjoy it, and so does Dawn, who helps with it as well.

“We had a 9th-grader last year who played in our show last year in July, and she told her mother that this was the best summer she’d ever had. So we’re doing it for the community mostly, but kind of for ourselves too.”

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