These fine folks right at home in the grange

‘Greater Tuna’ billed as a one-stop irreverent romp through classic Americana
By: Paul Cambra, Features Editor
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Greater Tuna
When: 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Mt. Vernon Grange Hall, 3185 Bell Road, Auburn
Cost: $10
Info: (530) 885-3974, www.mtvernongrange.
org. Proceeds benefit the Grange and a charity selected by an impartial drawing at Awareness Day on June 15.

Vera Carp wants to censor the dictionary, Didi Snavely owns a used weapons store and Pearl Burras is addicted to killing dogs.
Sound like a weekend with the in-laws? Well, these are but a few of the characters that populate the cast of “Greater Tuna,” a two-man play that skewers the sensibilities of a small-minded segment of the South. Written in 1981, the play is as relevant today — maybe more so — than it was when Ronald Reagan ruled the roost.
“I really don’t think it has a time or a place,” said director Christopher Cook, of the Green Valley Theater Company. “You can take it in a couple of directions. We decided instead of trailer trash to go more to that 80s thing, so if you’re Bertha Bumiller, you still have the 50s sensibility. We thought, let’s look back.  Let’s not go with the bullet. Let’s go with the misinformed woman in the house dress and beehive hairdo.”
Cook and company just finished a renovation of the Grange Performing Arts, next door to the Green Valley Grange in Sacramento. After a successful opening performance – and a dress rehearsal where a can of tuna slated for the food bank got you in to watch –  the company was looking for a way to give back.
“We are well taken care of by the community,” Cook said. “We have a real successful theater and we do something every year to give back.”
That could be taking a children’s show on a tour of schools or bringing a USO-style program into retirement homes. Being that they are closely associated with the Green Valley Grange, they thought that perhaps other granges might be able to benefit from this.
“They contacted us,” said Barry Connick, secretary of the Mt. Vernon Grange Hall in Auburn. “We had been thinking about how we can create a Grange Awareness Day. Ironically, Green Valley put out feelers to see who would be interested and it fit right into our plans.”
Granges in Pleasant Valley, Coloma and Cool are also stops on the “Greater Tuna” Sierra Nevada foothills tour. Proceeds from the local show will be spilt 50/50 between the Mt. Vernon Grange and a charity to be selected by an impartial drawing between those attending their Grange Awareness Day on June 15.
Grange Halls have always been for the community; a family-friendly place to gather, to solve problems, to provide assistance and to give their members a voice in government forums. Oh to be a fly on the wall of the Grange Hall in Tuna, Texas (a fictional town, third-smallest in the state).
“The play was originally very dark and I was drawn to it,” Cook said. “It’s an odd form of racism, so blatant it does that immediate ‘Oh my gosh, are there really people like this in the world?’ But it’s brought out in a humorous way, so you get a bunch of uncomfortable laughter, like ‘Wow, somebody actually thinks that way.’”
Lisa Carnahan, from Auburn, saw the play a few years ago in Nevada City.
“It was fabulous, so funny,” she said. “I remember going in thinking ‘How are two guys going to play all of those different parts?’ But they did and it was believable and hysterical.”
Those two guys would be actors Ryan Harbert and Owen Wilson. Between them, they play 22 characters, ranging from Jody Bumiller, a young child followed constantly by eight to 10 dogs, to the Reverend Spikes, president of the Smut Snatchers of the New Order, who believe there are words in the dictionary that may be offensive or misunderstood by pre-college students.
“The characters are brilliant,” Cook said. “The two guys are insanely funny people.”
Cook said the all-volunteer Green Valley Theater Company is small but strong. And while this show only utilizes two actors, he says they cast a wide net when it comes to producing musicals like “Blood Brothers,” “Aida” and their annual turn at “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
“We kind of count ourselves lucky when we get to do this old stuff,” he said. “We only do shows that people can’t not do.”