New American Folk Theatre’s “DEEP IN THE HEART OF TUNA” runs Feb 4 – March 5 at Pride Arts Center

New American Folk Theatre is pleased to present the Midwest premiere of DEEP IN THE HEART OF TUNA, the newest installment of the comedic ‘Tuna’ series, which has entertained audiences across the U.S for over 25 years (Greater Tuna, “A Tuna Christmas, “Red, White and Tuna” and Tuna Does Vegas). Written by Ed Howard, Joe Sears and Jaston Williams and directed by Derek Van Barham, DEEP IN THE HEART OF TUNA will play February 4 – March 5, 2017 at The Buena at Pride Arts Center, 4147 N. Broadway in Chicago. Tickets are currently available at or by calling (872) 588-5760.

DEEP IN THE HEART OF TUNA will feature New American Folk Theatre Company Members Grant Drager and Anthony Whitaker.

DEEP IN THE HEART OF TUNA is a “Best Of” Tuna show that follows the story of Bertha Bumiller and her beautifully dysfunctional family. Tuna, TX is the third smallest town in Texas, where the Lion’s Club is too liberal and Patsy Cline never dies. The eclectic band of citizens that make up this town are portrayed by only two performers, making this satire on life in rural America even more powerful as they depict all of the inhabitants of Tuna – men, women, children and animals.

“Playwright Ed Howard asked New American Folk Theatre to present the Midwest premiere of his newest ‘Tuna’ script, Deep in the Heart of Tuna, after seeing our 2015 Jeff-nominated production of The Summer of Daisy Fay in Chicago,” comments Co-Artistic Director Anthony Whitaker. “It’s an honor for us to give Chicago this new ‘Best Of’ Tuna story during the 35th anniversary of the original play – and I look forward to working with Grant Drager to bring the denizens of the third smallest town in Texas to life.”

The production team for DEEP IN THE HEART OF TUNA includes: Kate Setzer Kamphausen (costume design), Kallie Rolison (sound design) and Jamal Howard (production manager).


About the Playwrights:

Ed Howard is the co-author with Jaston Williams and Joe Sears of Greater Tuna, A Tuna Christmas, Red, White and Tuna and Tuna Does Vegas. He directs Sears and Williams in the national tours of the Tuna tetralogy. Off-Broadway, he directed Greater Tuna and on Broadway, A Tuna Christmas, which was selected as on of the ten best plays of 1995 and garnered Mr. Sears a Tony nomination. Also Off-Broadway, he directed Laughing Stock by Romulus Lenney, which was selected by TIME magazine as one of the top ten plays of 1984. Mr. Howard is author of several other plays including The Summer of Daisy Fay, based on the novel Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man by Fannie Flagg.

Joe Sears is co-author and co-star of Tuna Does Vegas, as well as co-author and co-star of the wildly successful Tuna Trilogy. Mr. Sears has been touring extensively with the Tuna Trilogy productions since 1982. His sixth tour of A Tuna Christmas included his Broadway debut for which he received a 1995 Tony Award-nomination for Best Actor in a Play. The first record-breaking year included a command performance for President and Mrs. George Bush at the White House. Mr. Sears’ Washington, D.C. engagement of A Tuna Christmas earned him his third nomination for the Helen Hayes Award for Best Actor. A Tuna Christmas was also nominated for Best Play. Mr. Sears also received nominations in 1984 and 1988 for the Helen Hayes Award for his performance in Greater Tuna. He originated these roles off-Broadway when Greater Tuna premiered in 1982 and has performed in the highly successful national tours and co-wrote and starred in the Embassy Television/Norman Lear Special of Greater Tuna, which aired on HBO. Mr. Sears has been acting professionally for more than 30 years. His credits include a season with Theatre Works USA in New York, summer stock, outdoor drama, television and eight Shakespeare plays. Among his many roles are Bottom and Thisby in two separate productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor and the Doctor in Three Sisters. He appeared with Fannie Flagg (Fried Green Tomatoes) in The Foreigner. Later, he would play Fannie’s role and attributes his success to her. Mr. Sears has appeared on the David Letterman and Merv Griffin shows and received a Los Angeles Dramalogue Award for his writing and performance of Greater Tuna. Mr. Sears received the 1993 Los Angeles Dramalogue Award for Best Actor in A Tuna Christmas. He performed in the musical comedy The Fantasticks at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. and at Casa Mañana Theatre in Fort Worth. He made his movie debut with Tommy Lee Jones and Matt Damon in The Good Old Boys. Mr. Sears is the playwright for the Cherokee Nation’s outdoor drama Trail of Tears, which runs during the summer months in Tahlequah, OK. Mr. Sears was awarded the “Theatre LA Ovation Award” for Best Actor 1999. He recently completed the Libretto (along with Mr. Williams) for the new Comic Opera Ochelata’s Wedding, commissioned by the OK Mozart International Music Festival. He and Austin-Nashville songwriter Kimmie Rhodes are now working on a new musical entitled Doin’ God’s Chores, an Austin workshop production. Mr. Sears also owns and operates Cody Stage, a summer stock theatre company in Cody, WY.

Jaston Williams is co-author, co-star and producer of Tuna Does Vegas and is the co-author and co-star of the Tuna Trilogy. Mr. Williams has been creating the citizens of Tuna since 1982. The performances have played on and off Broadway at the Kennedy Center, the Edinburgh International Arts Festival, the Spoleto Festival U.S.A. and all over America. He has received Washington D.C.’s Helen Hayes Award nominations for A Tuna Christmas and Red, White and Tuna, as well as the San Francisco Bay Area Critics Award for Greater Tuna. Mr. Williams received the L.A. Dramalogue Award for both Greater Tuna and A Tuna Christmas. A Tuna Christmas was published in “Best Plays of 1995.” For several years, Mr. Williams toured in Larry Shue’s The Foreigner, for which he received a Helen Hayes Award nomination for Best Actor. He performed in The Fantasticks at Washington D.C.’s Ford’s Theatre and directed the musical Bad Girls Upset By The Truth at Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre. Mr. Williams received the Texas Governors Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Arts by a Native Texan and has performed at the White House on three occasions. In his hometown of Austin, Texas, Mr. Williams has appeared at the State Theatre in Eugene Ionesco’s The Chairs and at Zachary Scott Theatre in Jay Presson Allen’s Tru, for which he received the Austin Critics Table Award for Best Actor in a drama. He most recently appeared at Zachary Scott Theatre in The Laramie Project. His play, Romeo and Thorazine, work-shopped at Zachary Scott Theatre in November 2001. He work-shopped his autobiographical one-man show I’m Not Lying to critical acclaim at Austin’s State Theatre of Texas and returned it there for a full production in February of 2004 as well as a benefit performance at Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center. His latest autobiographical play, Cowboy Noises, premiered in Austin in February 2008 to critical acclaim.

About the Director:

Derek Van Barham is an Artistic Associate with Pride Films & Plays and a member of the Red Tape Theatre ensemble. PFP credits include Angry Fags (Steppenwolf Garage), BITE and Kill Your Boyfriends (original pieces), Priscilla: Queen of the Desert (with David Zak) and Songs from an Unmade Bed (Jeff nomination). Chicago credits include From These Fatal Loins (The Ruckus), Miracle! and Skooby Don’t (Hell in a Handbag) and TRASH (New American Folk Theatre). Movement: Coraline, Amour, and Goblin Market (Black Button Eyes) and pieces for La Chingada and Salonathon. He was named one of Windy City Times’ 30 Under 30, honoring individuals from Chicago’s LGBTQ+ communities, and currently performs with the queer improv team Baby Wine. MFA: CCPA/Roosevelt University.

About New American Folk Theatre

New American Folk Theatre is dedicated to folk theatre, music, education, and stories that shine new light on the American tale. We strive to educate the public on works worthy of inclusion to the American theatrical canon. Through utilitarian efforts of using the resources around us, we will produce impactful theatre and other artistic projects that help us learn and grow as a society. For additional information, visit

About Pride Arts Center

Pride Arts Center (PAC) opened in 2016 and consists of two performance spaces: The Buena at 4147 N. Broadway which has 50 seats and The Broadway at 4139 N. Broadway which has 85 seats, and it is run by Pride Films and Plays. PAC has become an important part of the arts environment in the Buena Park neighborhood and beyond by hosting events including After Orlando, Bechdel Fest, SheFest and the 525,600 Minutes Cabaret. For more information about space at Pride Arts Center, visit