Ahhhh. Breathe in the slightly cooler air, Texas, it’s almost Christmas time again. Unless, of course, you’ve entered a retail store in the past few months. In that case, Christmas season began sometime in August.
With autumn moving towards the exit and Thanksgiving a week away, we can all turn our attention towards the winter holiday season. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Eid al-Adha, Kwanzaa, Bodhi Day, or even Festivus, there are some universal and ageless staples of the season (like that holiday fruitcake no one ever wants to eat). Everyone has their own habits and traditions they can enjoy, sharing the holiday cheer with others.
A great deal of the people I know have an implicit laundry list of traditions they experience between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Some of them even brave the crowds of Black Friday, but to me that’s a whole different kind of madness. For the rest of us, perhaps visiting Santa Claus at the mall would suffice, or just watching a holiday show or display of some sort with your loved ones will do.
Some have their own Christmas film festivals. These staples of the season are universal, and many shows and exhibitions celebrate this joyous time: “A Christmas Carol,” shooting your eye out with A Christmas Story, “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” (the real version, not the Jim Carrey one), chuckling with the Griswolds in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, yipee-ki-yaying with Die Hard, or simply basking in the warmth of “The Charlie Brown Christmas Special.”
Here in Austin, TX, there’s another timeless holiday treat this year. That would be the return of the annual
Zilker Park Trail of Lights performances of the comedic play “A Tuna Christmas.” Wait? You don’t know about Tuna? Well, let me fill you in. Rest assured, it has nothing to do with Jessica Simpson.
“A Tuna Christmas” is the second play of a four part series created by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears, and Ed Howard. The first was Greater Tuna, and the holiday tale was followed by Red, White and Tuna and Tuna Does Vegas. Set in the fictional town of “Tuna” (proudly proclaimed as the “third-smallest in Texas”), the play revolves around the community’s annual Christmas Yard Display Contest, a wayward vandal, family strife, and a frustrating attempt to stage a production of “A Christmas Carol.”
There are twenty-two roles in this play, but here’s the kicker. It’s a two-man show directed by Howard. Yep, Williams and Sears play every single role. Judging by all the acclaim they’ve accumulated over the years, the guys are fast, witty, and hilarious. These satirists grew their creation right here in Austin, and constantly tour the country performing their shenanigans about Tuna, TX. They’ve taken “Tuna” off-Broadway, played at The White House, and even had an HBO Special back in the 1980s. It’s not easy to take a swipe at small-town conservative ideals here in the great red state of Texas, but the trio shows that Tuna is greater.
Something tells me the humor is really gonna hit close to home for your truly. You see, with all respect to John Cougar Mellencamp (or whatever he calls himself now), I was born in a small-town. And let me tell you something, growing up in small-town Texas is a unique experience. I often marveled at how ludicrous the small-town mentality can be, and I think my old stomping ground was the very prototype of half-baked, bass-ackward ideas. Even as a kid, I couldn’t understand its policies and contradictions. What’s worse is that decades later, they haven’t changed.
Allow me to paint an example of what my hometown does. Recently, this town was suffering from an identity problem. Located smack dab in the middle of nowhere (seriously, it’s a two-hour drive from Austin, Houston, San Antonio and Corpus Christi), the local leaders decided the city was lacking, from a marketing standpoint. They need a trademark, something that will make people come and spend tourist dollars in that coastal oasis that resides 100 miles from civilization. After spending a good chunk of taxpayer money, they decided on an image. They would brand the town with… wait for it… boots. Yeah, boots. No, not Dora’s little monkey buddy.
I know what you’re going to ask, and the answer is also “no.” The town is not known for boots or for bootmaking of any kind. If anything, I’d say the town is known for being populated by conservatives who raise children that can’t wait to grow up and escape. Imagine, if you will, The Last Picture Show without Ben Johnson (or Cybill Shepard) and you’ll begin to get the idea.
Oh, and get this. This week, the city staged some fabricated event to pat themselves on the back and market a line of boots emblazoned with tacky graphics of the town’s various logos. All I can say is that the focus groups must have been blind. Trust me, the boots are truly hideous. That is my hometown, ladies and gents. You can’t make this stuff up. It’s all so sad and funny in a Waiting for Guffman kind of way. With towns like this all over the Lone Star state, I’m sure the Greater Tuna trio has a wealth of experiences to draw upon. I fully expect my jaw to hurt from laughing.
So as I enjoy life in Austin now, I look forward to starting my own holiday tradition in this city. “A Tuna Christmas” will anoint this jolly season with some Texas-sized laughs at the expense of small-towns. Heck, I guess I shouldn’t complain too much. I know I’ve harped on my hometown, but it’s done out of love as much as frustration. After all, it’s Christmas. And like George Bailey learned, everything has its sweet and salty moments in this wonderful life. Maybe even that holiday fruitcake. Not that I would know, because I’ll never try it. You eat it this year, and I’ll help myself to a serving of Tuna.
Re-gift the fruitcake and come enjoy “A Tuna Christmas” with me. It is playing at The Paramount from November 23rd through the 28th.