Texas legend Jaston Williams reflects on a career trodding the boards in his new one-man show ‘Maid Marian in a Stolen Car’
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Executive Editor
If you live long enough, hopefully you’ll be blessed with great experiences. For theater people, those experiences often make for incredible stories … literally in-credible. Take, for instance, the time Jaston Williams — the legendary Texas actor, playwright, raconteur and co-creator of the fictional West Texas town of Tuna featured in a series of outlandish comedies — was in Taos, N.M., doing “a radical lesbian hippie theater” adaptation of Robin Hood.
“The woman playing Maid Marian was crazy even by our standards,” he recounts. “Someone got the idea that she and I should dress up as clowns and go to the town square and stir up business. Well, Taos was not a clown-friendly venue. We’re just all out of our minds.” On the way there, the woman noticed a police prowler and violently veered off the road. The car they were driving, it turned out, was stolen.
So begins Act 2 of Williams’ latest creation, the solo show Maid Marian in a Stolen Car, running at the Eisemann Center this week for five performances. In addition to the title story, Williams re-enacts how his mother dealt with this flamboyant barefoot 6-year-old, skipping down the street imitating Betty Hutton singing “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun” (“Mother was very, very concerned,” he says), his obsession as a teenager with French absurdist theater (“which was rare in West Texas … or anywhere”), his first professional job as an actor (more on that later) and even meeting one Joe Sears, and creating the characters of an entire town while sitting in a large oak tree in San Antonio (“We engaged in behavior now totally legal in Washington state and Colorado”).
But these tales are more than anecdotes, more than monologues. They are, in fact, the point of his play: A valentine to the artists and craftsmen and fellow travelers in the world of make-believe.
“It’s about us — about theater people,” Williams says. “About having the bug when you’re a kid. About the scrawny boy and his best friend, the big-boned girl, and how we find our safety and ourselves in this world. It’s about how, despite all our frailties, we are good people. I have had a life in the theater and I have been around really good people — not everyone can say that.”
Among the good people Williams has been blessed by are two who recently passed away: Larry Randolph and Theatre 3 founder Jac Alder.
“I’ve never seen anyone surrounded by as much love and care at the end of his life as Larry,” he says. “And losing Jac — my goodness. Jac and I talked when I worked there doing Tru how [odd] it was we had never worked together. I had dozens of lunches with Jac; he was just the most unassuming man. When I heard he was gone, it just knocked my lights out. I was looking forward to coming back to have lunch with him. It teaches you, be grateful for what you get and take care of it.”
Among the most precious memories Williams has of his career was one of the earliest: He was 21, in his first paid acting gig, and the theater company he was with was performing Hamlet in front of high school kids. One day, someone accidentally booked two rival, largely Hispanic schools to see the show at the same time. Initially, the vibe was tense. Then something remarkable happened.
“We had these rival schools and these white white white people onstage,” Williams says. “But they understood the play in a way we didn’t — they understood the intrigue, the violence, the betrayal. You get a few of those performances in your life — ones that change you. It was as good a day as I’ve ever had in the theater.”
Williams wrote down those experiences years ago in a monologue and set it aside. Then about a year ago, he revisited it, as well as other adventures in underground theater, the invention of characters like Aunt Pearl and Didi Snavely and more. Then he paired up with director Sarah Richardson, who helped transform these stories into a cohesive play.
“I’ve worked with a lot of good directors in my life, but she is truly amazing,” he gushes. “She took what were basically monologues about the theater and formed then into a real play. I am overjoyed with this work and so happy we’re taking it to Dallas.”
There’s something else that makes Williams happy as well: The Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equality, which has — finally — legitimized his marriage to his long-time partner Kevin.
“We’ve been married since 2007 in Canada, but Texas finally caught up with us,” he says. “Rick Perry can kiss my ass! We were both legally parents to [their adopted son Song] but the amount of money and paperwork required to take care of that was incredible. Now we’ve got our rights and screwed a lawyer at the same time. It’s amazing.”
Hmmm…. Sounds like it might even make a good play someday.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 16, 2015.