By Dawn DeCwikiel-Kane
GREENSBORO — Fans of the former downtown Broach Theatre well remember its productions of “A Tuna Christmas.”
From the 1990s to 2007, audiences doubled over with laughter as theater co-founders Hall Parrish and Stephen Gee played more than 20 characters from the tiny town of Tuna, Texas.
Now, Parrish, Gee and the Broach are gone. Parrish died in 2008, Gee in May.
In 2012, Community Theatre of Greensboro bought the building at 520 S. Elm St. for its productions and offices, and renamed it the Starr Theatre.
This weekend, the theater will return to its roots.
Two CTG actors will revive “A Tuna Christmas” there in memory of the Broach and its co-founders, on the very stage where Parrish and Gee long performed.
George Carson and Doug Heberle will add their own modern spin to the 1989 satire.
“We want to honor them but don’t want to mimic them,” Carson said of Parrish and Gee. “We couldn’t do it justice, with how talented they were and how much they were beloved.”
Carson, a chemical engineer, and Heberle, an attorney and co-founder of The Idiot Box comedy club, met through last year’s CTG production of “The Wizard of Oz.” They and their families appeared in the show.
Carson had seen “A Tuna Christmas” at another theater about 20 years ago. It’s the second in a series of comedic plays by playwrights Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard, which also includes “Greater Tuna,” “Red, White and Tuna” and “Tuna Does Vegas.”
The two actors play Thurston Wheelis and Arles Struvie, disc jockeys at radio station OKKK as well as 10 other characters each, male and female.
As DJs, they report on hot competition in the annual lawn display contest. A mysterious Christmas Phantom who vandalizes yard displays threatens to throw the contest into turmoil.
Meanwhile, Stanley Bumiller tries to end his probation and leave Tuna, while Bertha Bumiller attempts to hold her family together, and Joe Bob Lipsey struggles to mount a holiday play.
Carson recalls seeing Parrish and Gee rehearse the show years ago. “I was so very impressed,” he said.
Then Carson’s job took his family to Wales and Michigan for nearly 10 years.
When they returned to Greensboro, Parrish had died and CTG had taken over the building.
When Gee died, “It led me to the idea that maybe we could do something in honor of those guys,” Carson said.
He ran his idea by Allen Broach, who had owned the building and eventually sold it to CTG after Parrish’s death.
Broach had bought and renovated the former Salvation Army mission in the 1980s for his marketing and communications firm. He let Gee, Parrish and David Bell use its sanctuary for rehearsals of its newly formed theater company, Corson Productions. They soon began to stage plays in the 161-seat venue and became the Broach Theatre Company.
Broach loved Carson and Heberle’s idea.
“It meant so much to us over the time they did the show,” Broach said of Parrish and Gee.
Broach is particularly pleased that they aren’t trying to copy Parrish and Gee’s work but are adding updated touches.
Heberle, who performed improvisational comedy for 25 years, and Carson have incorporated opportunities for audience participation and improv.
At the beginning of the play, they will ask audience members for ideas such as an unusual internet purchase or a desired Christmas gift, Heberle said. They will then work them into the script, Heberle said.
In the script, they changed Joe Bob Lipsey’s production of “A Christmas Carol” into “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” a nod to the CTG show that will follow theirs.
They have modernized pop culture references to set the play in modern-day Tuna.
“Other than that, we remain very true to the heart and soul of the story,” Heberle said.
Playing 11 characters each is no easy feat, considering the number of lines and the frequent costume changes.
“When we first read through the script, Doug and I looked at each other and said, ‘Gosh, I didn’t realize there were that many lines to learn,’ ” Carson said.
Not only are they directing the show themselves, they are financing it out of their own pockets.
CTG and Allen Broach have helped with promotion.
Carson and Heberle hope to generate enough in ticket sales to cover the costs.
They also plan to buy a plaque to honor Parrish, Gee, Bell and the Broach Theatre history. It will hang in the Starr Theatre.
“Allen allowed the theater to exist, and Stephen, Hall and David brought it to life and made it what it is,” Carson said.
The gesture touches Broach and Bell.
“They were so important to Greensboro, and they need to be remembered,” Broach said.
Bell calls the tribute “very thoughtful.”
At the Broach, Bell worked behind the scenes as technical director, designing and building sets and handling other production features. He now works as production manager Carolina Theatre but occasionally creates set designs for CTG.
Sometimes, he sits alone in the theater and reminisces: “I think of all of the hundreds of shows we did there, and how we touched people’s lives and made them laugh, cry and think, We added something to the lives of people in the Triad.”
Contact Dawn DeCwikiel-Kane at (336) 373-5204 and follow