Familiar faces bring 'I Heard That' to Galveston stage
When Joe Sears and Jaston Williams set out to write Greater Tuna in the early 1980s, the Austin-based playwriting, acting, directing and producing duo had more than light-hearted comedy in mind.
Their first play was a satirical look at the 'moral majority,' the evangelical Christian-oriented political organization making headlines at the time.
"There were so many things in the newspaper to make fun of," Sears said. "This new play, I Heard That! to me, is a new political cartoon."
The comedy by Sears, Williams and long-time collaborator Ed Howard will make its world premier at Galveston's Grand 1894 Opera House, 2020 Postoffice St., Aug. 11-21.
The show will appear at 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays. Tickets, depending on the performance, range from $13 to $50.
Sears' and Williams' Tuna comedies, which also include A Tuna Christmas; Red, White and Tuna; and Tuna Does Vegas; features the citizens of "the third smallest town in Texas," the fictional town of Tuna.
All of the plays have toured nationally. Greater Tuna — featuring more than 20 characters portrayed by Sears and Williams - went on to become an HBO Special and an off-Broadway production.
A Tuna Christmas opened on Broadway in 1994 and resulted in a 1995 Best Actor Tony Award nomination for Sears. It returned to the Grand 1894 Opera House last January.
Sears and Williams also have performed Greater Tuna and A Tuna Christmas at the White House for President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush.
I Heard That! takes a similar approach to its humor - and once again stars Sears and Williams - but this play features a new set of characters and a global perspective.
"It takes on the Tea Party; it takes on the Liberals," Sears said. "It takes on the world going crazy: the hate, the fear. After 9/11 everyone was united, and a few months later we all hated each other. I think the play explores that. Why are we so scared?"
The play speaks through comedy, Sears said, through mostly likeable characters.
"The basic premise of the play is communication," Williams said. "The world is so wired."
The play begins in the bedroom of an extremely unhappy couple, portrayed by Sears and Williams, and works its way to Capital Hill to later North Korea, where audiences will get to see Williams portraying Kim Jong Il.
"He gets his credit card cut off, and when he calls about it, he gets some guy in India on the phone," Williams said.
Other stops along the way include a mental hospital and a Civil War re-enactment.
Howard is directing.
The play was originally set to open Aug. 4 but was postponed until Aug. 11 after Sears was briefly hospitalized.
Now, Williams said, everything is moving forward again.
"We're real excited about it, and we're excited to have Joe coming into better health," he said.
"Joe and I have known each other for 40 years. We've been doing the Tuna stuff for 30 years. Our relationship is family. When one of us is in a crisis, it really is a family thing."
Williams said it feels right to be bringing the play's world premiere to Galveston.
"My favorite physical space to work in is the opera house, and (executive director) Maureen Patton is a dear a friend as we'll ever have."
The opera house is home, Sears added.
"We feel we're in really good hands opening our play there, and Houston audiences are wonderful."
Sears and Williams also presented the world premiere of Tuna Does Vegas at the opera house.
"Everyone turns out for Joe and Jaston because they feel they know them," Patton said.
And the relatively small size of the theater enhances that familiarity, she said.
"To have them perform in this space is an intimate experience for the actors and the audience. It all comes together amazingly well."
AT A GLANCE
What: ‘I Heard That!’
Where: Grand 1894 Opera House, 2020 Postoffice St., Galveston
WHEN: Aug. 11-21. Performances are 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday; and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday”
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