Review No. 1 of 2: Blood & Holly, Christmas West of the Pecos by Jaston Williams, Reviewed by Rick Perkins
by Rick Perkins

 

Jaston Williams (photo by Kristen Rogers)

Standing outside the Paramount Theater on Congress avenue in downtown Austin, looking at the various celebrity names on the etched panels in the sidewalk at the front doors, one will quickly see the very first people enshrined in the historic Austin Arts Walk of Fame. Jaston Williams and Joe Sears of Greater Tuna lore. These very funny actors and writers filled the Paramount many times, during the nearly forty years they brought the four incarnations of Tuna shows to the beloved stage inside.

 

National tours always followed their sold out runs here. Audiences craved more Tuna helpings, coast to coast. Looking at Jaston’s website will astound you at the number of awards and honors he has received over his  very successful long career. Making a solid living from your original works in the theater is a blessing not taken lightly by Jaston nor Joe Sears who lives a very comfortable retirement up in Bartlesville, Oklahoma directing and inspiring others with his art works and resources of cultural knowledge.

 

Jaston began his latest one-man show last Friday night by walking out to thunderous applause from the enthusiastic audience, all members safely seated apart from one another. He welcomed us all back to the loving embrace of a live theater and especially here at the Stateside where all of his previous solo shows played. He shared sweet memories of performing right next door on the famed Paramount stage.

 

During decades of touring through various holidays, hotels were home for him and his fellow gypsies. They became a trusting tribe, while all were missing their families far away.

 

Former Texas governor Ann Richards, Jaston's dear friend, was the subject of warm humorous stories and respect during a pre-show curtain warmer speech to thank the sold out crowd for joining him on this holiday odyssey back through his childhood memories.

 

From the opening music cue and through the sublime subtle lighting changes, beautifully rendered by long time, always brilliant Sound Designer Ken Huncovsky and Luke Moyer’s textured cinematic illuminations, we lucky patrons were in for a rare holiday gift.

 

Watching Jaston Williams effortlessly careen from one magnificently fashioned relative glaring in silence but saying plenty to the very different voice of a maligned neighbor was like taking a master class in character acting and writing. We were peeking into the windows of his childhood home somewhere out in West Texas, watching and hearing the chaotic masterpiece unfold in technicolor rainbows.

 

There are well known established standup comedians working today, who do not have the comedic timing and instincts for such multi layered characters. Williams delivered the rapid fire set-up descriptions and  perfectly timed punch lines as we careened onto the next scenario,  mouths agape, laughter echoing throughout the charming intimate theater.

 

Eavesdropping on the Hugger family was a joyous journey, filled with clear memories of our own families. Several times, various people near us, nudged each other and recoiled with laughter quipping, 

 

My idiot uncle did that, too—

My mother would say that—

We had that same hideous tree!

 

The sheer number of quotable one-liners was overwhelming after a while, too daunting to keep up. “Your mother gets one phone call a week, you can tell her then!!” was a top 10 favorite. Or, arguing on the phone about a errantly delivered front lawn statue of a Catholic icon,  “I know a Jesus when I see one, I’m a Baptist!’ That one still conjures a smile.

 

Two ancient aunts who had a holiday habit of scorching their eyebrows off from the open gas heaters is just one vignette that charmed the receptive crowd.  (Please do not take makeup tips from these ladies.)

 

One longer quiet segment used the device of a family letter. Reading a year’s milestones with various births, marriages and losses along with local cultural events of the day summons up vivid memories of our own relatives' lives.

 

Sherpa Hugger will forever be quoted and requested at holiday gatherings. A prodigal son on the phone tells of bringing home yet another new current exotic girlfriend with names like Sunspot, Borealis and Lute…. Now it’s Sheena the Vegan?!?  “You are bringin’ home a woman who cain’t stand the smell of cookin’ meat to Texas?!” 

 

After the show, I mentioned to Jaston that this script is so fertile with descriptive characters and dialogue, along with scenic details (for example, “If it wasn't for the litter blowing across the barren landscape, we’d had no colors at all”), this would make a marvelous audio book, a great entertainment while driving home for the holidays or a welcome companion on any road trip year round. He said that idea has been discussed as a real possibility.

 

Jaston's joyous, kind-hearted, dark comedy is a very clear example of letting the audience fill in any available blanks with their own imaginations. The simple setting let viewers focus on the central characters' narratives. We felt right at home in the various kitchens and living rooms and down at the local bar.

 

All four of the Greater Tuna shows were noted for their blazing fast elaborate costume changes, often eliciting applause for their creativity. During one change last night, the lush lovely music cue faded down and the subtle lights gently transitioned up. We waited in anticipation, until finally we heard, “I’m coming!” 

 

Jaston Williams (photo by Kirsten Rogers)

 

Eventually, an Angel with golden wings emerged. “Sometimes a costume change is like a molestation … this was one of those times!”

 

Another intimate shared moment of clarity that earned rousing applause.

 

With each new batch of characters, some family, some neighbors and bar patrons, we got to share their private thoughts and opinions, while —for better or worse—imposing them upon our collective memories of our own families' life histories.

 

Director Kristen Rogers made sure Jaston kept the pacing moving along nicely, supporting the rapid-fire jokes and wacky characters but allowing stretches of quiet reflections and emotional subtlety. Well done. The colorful costumes by the infamous award-winning Susan Branch Towne served up a tasty  holiday punch. Willa Kaye Warren added hilarious wig designs that brought vivid flair to these outlandish Texas characters. 

 

We look forward to meeting them again. As one sweet old bar regular said, “I love you, Raoul, wherever you are!” This loving kindness and gratitude was the overriding feeling we all shared, back in a live theater setting again, with strangers, at a Covid-era safe distance, with our various metaphorical masks on, silently cherishing another night in a darkened theater with strangers who felt like family.

 

Please take a good long look at Jaston’s website and enjoy the retrospective of a Texas Cultural Icon we welcome home for the holidays. This performance was near the end of a sold-out run through various Texas theaters Jaston has enjoyed for decades.

 

He told me his very favorite theater in North America is the stunning historic 1894 Grand Opera House in Galveston. Having seen many shows there and gratefully performed on that glorious stage myself, I wholeheartedly agree. 

 

Blood & Holly is one family gathering everyone will enjoy for generations to come!

 


Blood & Holly, Christmas West of the Pecos
by Jaston Williams
Jaston Williams

Friday-Saturday,
December 17 - December 18, 2021
Paramount Theatre
713 Congress Avenue
Austin, TX, 78701

Stateside at the Paramount presents Blood and Holly, a hysterical holiday performance by Greater Tuna’s Jaston Williams based on his own life experiences. Limited three-show engagement December 17 – 18, 2021.

Tickets go on sale Thursday, October 21 at 10 a.m. local time and will be available atwww.austintheatre.org or by calling 512.474.1221 Monday – Friday, Noon – 5:30 p.m.