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Aunt Pearl (Wayne David Parker) tells Stanley (Aral Gribble) about how certain things get better with age in "Red, White and Tuna" at Williamston Theatre. Photo: Chris Purchis.
By Dana Casadei
WILLIAMSTON – For some actors the idea of playing more than one character in a show would be intimidating, but for Aral Gribble and Wayne David Parker, that challenge was part of the thrill of being in "Red, White and Tuna," Williamston Theatre's last show of the season.
"It's just a different sort of show to do for an actor and the challenge of making every single person different is kind of neat," Parker said. "I think that's the biggest draw for me."
The second show in Williamston's Tuna trilogy, Gribble and Parker will be playing nine and 10 roles each, reprising their roles, and some new ones, from 2010's "Greater Tuna."
While "Greater Tuna" had more of a focus on your everyday life in Tuna, Texas, "Red, White and Tuna" takes place during the Fourth of July, which means the Tuna High School Class Reunion.
"This series of shows is perfect for those two guys," said Tony Caselli, Williamston's artistic director and director of "Greater Tuna." "That type of quick-change comedy and being able to do a bunch of different characters all at the drop of a hat – those two are not only capable of doing that, but also extremely skilled at doing it."
Even though Gribble and Parker had never worked together prior to "Greater Tuna," Caselli had no doubt they would be a perfect fit. "They're both naturally, so funny that the comedy just flows," Caselli said.
While Caselli had no worries that they would be successful, Gribble, as a younger actor without a "whole body of work behind him," was slightly intimidated by Parker.
Luckily that intimidation period didn't last long. "Before the first rehearsal I was a little intimidated because of who he was, but that's one of the best things about him," Gribble said. "He's so generous and giving and funny, and he gives you so much to play off of and he'll take anything I give him and run with it, that the intimidation melted away by the first table read of ‘Greater Tuna.'"
When they were getting ready for round two of Tuna, Gribble said it was "like working with an old friend that you haven't seen in a year."
This dynamic duo also has a lot of things in common, including that they're both extremely hard working and passionate about what they do, something that adds to why they work so well together.
"I think more than anything we're both funny idiots," said Parker, who everyone calls Daba. "It's like playing golf with a good golfer: You kind of play a little bit better, and that's what I do with Aral."
"It's really good to feed off of that, and when you get someone that's got that good of comic timing and imagination, it kind of brings your game up a little bit," he continued.
To continue the sports analogies, "Red, White and Tuna" director John Lepard, who also serves as Williamston's executive director, compared Gribble and Parker to a basketball team, saying that they were like putting two stars of the team on the court together and watching them pass and score.
"These guys are like the stars that know how to play with each other," Lepard said. "They listen and feed (off of) each other. The comedy is just fun to watch, even as a director."
And that joy to watch is not only during the actual shows, but during rehearsals as well. According to Gribble rehearsal is where the rare comedy happens.
"I wish you could sit in on a rehearsal," Lepard said. "Daba said we should be selling tickets to this (rehearsal)."
Rehearsal is also where Gribble and Parker are really able to delve into their characters and become more than just a costume.
"Having done the first one, the bigger challenge isn't memorizing the lines, it's going backstage and who you are next and where you're coming on from, because we've got five different entrance areas," Parker said.
With characters ranging from Gribble's Garland Poteet, a "tequila loving backwards Hillbilly" that works at a food booth, to Parker's Bertha Bumiller, a "mother hen," remembering whose next would indeed be a challenge.
"This process is a blast and ridiculously fun," Gribble said. "I'd say earlier this week, we hit the point where we were pretty satisfied with where the characters were, and now it's about doing your work as an actor and making them real, instead of who am I now, what wig am I wearing and what does my voice sound like."
Even though viewers aren't able to buy tickets to rehearsal and watch the process in action, they do have the opportunity to see these two on stage, where they can watch them shine.
"An audience can feel when guys are having fun, and these guys have fun every night," said Lepard. "It's not the same show every night, it's close to the same show every night, but they breathe life into it every single time.
SHOW DETAILS: "Red, White and Tuna" previews July 12-15 & 19, then runs Thursday-Sunday, July 20 - Aug. 19 at Williamston Theatre, 122 S. Putnam St., Williamston. Tickets: $15 previews; $20-25 all others. For information: 517-655-7469 or www.williamstontheatre.org.
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