Tuna fresh

New sets, new costumes but same classic cast as ‘Tuna Christmas’ rings in the new year in North Texas. So what is life like there in a post-DADT world?

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  |  jones@dallasvoice.com

105_Vera_lounge
FELIZ NAVIDAD, LUPE! | Vera Carp (Jaston Williams) will have a traditional, Christian Christmas if she has to kill for it. Welcome to Tuna, Texas.

A TUNA CHRISTMAS
Eisemann Center,
2351 Performance Drive, Richardson. Dec. 28–Jan 2. $29–$59.
972-744-4650.
EisemannCenter.com

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It’s not that Jaston Williams dislikes Christmas — it’s that growing up, it wasn’t exactly The Brady Bunch Holiday Special.

“We always called Christmas ‘blood and holly’ around my house,” Williams cracks with his signature Texas twang. “My mother could really make it rough. When there was company or a party you’d go from this loose experience to Franco’s Spain in a second. I figured it out by the time I was a teenager that I wasn’t wild about this holiday at all. This whole nostalgic, let’s-go-home-for-Christmas thing? Nah. Give me a good hotel with an open restaurant and room service anytime.”

Still, the holiday has been pretty good to Williams. With his writing, acting and now producing partner Joe Sears, Williams is enjoying more than 20 years of steady winter employment with A Tuna Christmas, which returns to the Eisemann Center for a week-long run Tuesday. The first sequel to their hit play Greater Tuna (nearing its 30th anniversary), it’s the only one of the shows to have a run on Broadway (earning a Tony nomination) and has been a staple of the season.

If you haven’t seen it (what’s wrong with you?), it tracks life in a tiny Texas town on Christmas Eve as the quirky residents (all played by Williams and Sears) reinforce and undermine stereotypes about small-town attitudes. And even at its age, it still seems fresh.

“We wrote is as Reagan had just come into power — that’s how old we are,” Williams recalls of the original play. “It was in response to the Moral Majority and their idiotic notions” — and Tea Partiers aren’t far removed from that. And contrary to popular opinion, they do not update the script.

“People constantly say, ‘You’ve added so much!’” Williams says. “I don’t even deny it anymore. Especially with Tuna Christmas we’re trying not to change things — though God help you if your cell phone goes off with Dede onstage. It’ll be like being locked in a phone booth with Patti LuPone.

“The temptation to comment on what’s going on today is so strong that if we started we’d never stop. So it’s set in time. No one in Tuna has a computer; they still have cords on the phones. And no one tweets — they’ll fine you. Vera has banned the word. It sounds dirty enough to ban.”

None of which is to say the show doesn’t get a makeover every so often. The duo still rehearses regularly, tweaking bits and polishing moments, and the current production features all-new sets and costumes.

“Joe and I are producing it ourselves now,” says Williams. “All these people who produce theater and want people to think it’s really, really hard so they won’t do it. But it was kinda like being in the Mafia. You think, ‘I’ve been watching this jerk kill people for 15 years — why can’t I do it?’ We’ve scaled it down and made it better. I’m very proud of it.”

Williams himself is closer to living the Tuna experience than ever — though its different in many ways to the one imagined 30 years ago. He and his partner, Kevin, moved with their adopted teenaged son to the little burg of Lockhart, Texas, and are proud to see the culture developing.

“One thing I can say about small-town people is, they believe their lyin’ eyes: They see two men raising a child and taking out the trash and they are changing their attitudes [about gay people]. It’s pretty amazing.”

(Williams is tickled as most gays are “don’t ask, don’t tell” was repealed, though, and thinks it was dumb to enact in the first place: “I was in the gay bars in the ‘70s. You get the right lesbian pissed off with weapons and they’re gonna take some territory. The ones who should really be afraid of gays in the military are our enemies.”)

The guys are off from performing Dec. 24 and 25, but will be doing a New Year’s Eve performance in Richardson, which Williams calls “one of the stranger nights of the year to perform, You really want to do a good show but it’s such a bizarre holiday. People feel obligated to have some transformative experience and they know they aren’t going to.” Though if they go to Tuna, they just might.
Merry Christmas, Jaston.

“And a Merry Tyler Moore to you, too,” he answers.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 24, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

VOP winners shine in Manchester

Arizpe, Carrizales wow crowd with performance on final day of 10-day Pride celebration in England

Ed Walsh  |  Special Contributor edwalsh94105@yahoo.com

Mel Arizpe and Laura Carrizales
TALENT ABROAD | Mel Arizpe, right, winner of the 2010 Voice of Pride competition, sings a duet with her partner — and VOP first runner-up — Laura Carrizales during their appearance at the Manchester Pride celebration on Monday, Aug. 30. (Photo courtesy MRNY.com)

MANCHESTER,  England — A couple from Dallas brought a bit of Texas to England this week and stole the show on the final day of Manchester Pride 2010, the city’s 10-day Pride celebration.
Mel Arizpe and Laura Carrizales were the winners of Dallas’s Voice of Pride, an annual contest sponsored by the Dallas Tavern Guild. Arizpe came in first place, winning a trip for two to Manchester and $3,000.

As luck would have it, Arizipe’s girlfriend, Laura Carrizales, won second place in the contest.

So naturally, Arizipe took Carrizales for the trip to the UK.

The couple, performing as “La Diva Loca,” also won the Voice of Pride’s duo category.

All those talents were put to good use at Manchester Pride 2010 on Monday, Aug. 30. The couple took to the stage at 2:40 p.m. and performed for a short 10 minutes — but they enthralled the crowd for each second.

Arizpe took to the stage first. “All the way from Dallas, we’ve come to sing to you all,” she told the British crowd in a Texas twang before launching into the  Whitney Houston hit “I’m Every Woman.”
The Brits roared their approval.

Carrizales joined Arizpe next on stage for their duet medley of four different songs: The Fugees “Ready or Not,” followed by En Vogue’s single “Never Gonna Get it,” and two different versions of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” — first the fast dance version, then the slower “Glee” version.

The Dallas couple made sure that their abbreviated version of “Poker Face” included the line, “I wanna hold ’em like they do in TEXAS please,” with a strong emphasis on “Texas.”

And the crowd was thrilled with the Gaga tribute, many dancing and singing along.

The medley, put together by their friend Danny Anchondo, was the same duet performance that helped them win the Voice of Pride group category.

Said Arizpe after the show, “I was happy they were responding. I think they really enjoyed the duet.”

Carrizales said they were concerned about the sound system, but in the end, she noted, it sounded great.

Mel Arizpe and Laura Carrizales
AFTERMATH | Laura Carrizales, left, and Mel Arizpe relax after performing onstage at Manchester Pride. (Ed Walsh/Special to Dallas Voice)

Arizpe and Carrizales appeared confident and relaxed on stage. They said that it helped that they were performing for strangers who they would never have to face again if they gave a bad performance. “It was a comfort that we didn’t know anybody,” said Carrizales.

The couple also said they were impressed by the scope of Manchester Pride: “It’s 10 times the size of Dallas,” said Carrizales. “They block off a whole section of the city [in Manchester].”

Added Arizpe, “We get a good turnout in Dallas but nothing like this.”

The idea to award Dallas’s Voice of Pride winner with a trip to Manchester was hatched by Andrew Stokes, who is both the chairman of Manchester Pride and the chief executive of the city’s official tourism office.

Stokes came up with the idea after visiting Dallas and visiting with his friend George Carrancho, who is part of American Airlines LGBT-dedicated “rainbow” sales team. Stokes watched part of the Voice of Pride competition while he was in town.

“I thought what a great thing it would be to bring the winner to Manchester,” Stokes said.

He worked out the trip with Carrancho and American Airlines, who helped sponsor the trip. Stokes and Carrancho introduced Arizpe and Carrizales before the couple’s performance.

So what’s it like for a couple of Texans in England?

Carrizales and Arizipe said they were welcomed warmly by the English and were given the VIP treatment during the four days they were in town. They were surprised that they were asked to march at the start of the parade, right behind the grand marshal, actor Sir Ian McKellan. That was an impressive honor considering that there were 101 contingents in the parade.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 3, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens