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Kauai Hooks A ‘Greater Tuna’

Greater Tuna is Women in Theatre’s second production at its new location at Kukui Grove Center in L~hu‘e.

Actors Rhonda Kulhanek and Bailey Hutton hit the stage in Women in Theatre’s rendition of Greater Tuna, which follows the quirky conduct of several eclectic characters living in a fictional town in Texas.

Rhonda Kulhanek is dressed in Western garb and speaks with a Southern twang as she describes one of the many characters she plays in Women in Theatre’s upcoming production of Greater Tuna.

It’s hard not to giggle as she banters with fellow actor Bailey Hutton, who also speaks with a drawl and is dressed in overalls and a plaid shirt. At this moment, they represent two of the show’s characters who host their town’s local radio station, OKKK.

Bailey Hutton and Rhonda Kulhanek enjoy playing each of their characters in Greater Tuna.

Greater Tuna, a satirical play penned in the early 1980s, is a comedic take on tiny town living and follows the stories of residents in fictional Tuna, Texas. It opens March 23, and is suitable given the nation’s current atmosphere.

“I think it’s kind of interesting in the timing of it, in terms of our political climate that we’re in today,” says Fran Kalb, Women in Theatre board president. “It’s really kind of an in-your-face look at some of these issues that we’re looking at as a country and that we’re revisiting today.”

Hutton and Kulhanek, who both just so happen to hail from Texas, play 10 different characters each throughout the comedy, which comprises several storylines featuring most of the 27 people (and one dog) who live in the rural town of Tuna. Hutton admires each of the characters he portrays and adds they are “harmless in their intentions.” His favorite persona, Aunt Pearl, is a crabby old woman that scares kids and poisons dogs in her neighborhood.

Director Cass Foster offers advice for actors Rhonda Kulhanek and Bailey Hutton during a recent rehearsal for the upcoming production of Greater Tuna.

“But she does love her chickens,” he jokes.

And Kulhanek has an affinity for the role she plays in Didi Snavely, who owns Didi’s Used Weapons (famous for the business guarantee “If Didi’s Can’t Kill It, It’s Immortal”).

All jokes aside, though, Kulhanek is truly fond of her home state where she grew up in a small town.

“All of these people I’ve met,” she says of Greater Tuna‘s characters. “These people are very real to me; some in a frightening way.”

In fact, she couldn’t believe it when she saw the announcement that Women in Theatre was holding auditions for Greater Tuna, which she says is a national treasure in the southern state.

“I thought, ‘Is that real?

Is this really happening on Kaua‘i?'” she recalls.

The humorous play is Women in Theatre’s first production of the year and second show since the theatrical group found its new home at Kukui Grove Center in October 2017. Prior to acquiring the new digs, the group was committed to finding an alternative location after losing their former home at Coconut Marketplace.

Now that things are back in swing, Women in Theatre anticipates putting on three to four productions each season, as well as continuing its yearly legacy of Kaua‘i Shorts — a festival of 10-minute original plays submitted by writers from around the world. Women in Theatre also intends to collaborate with and host other theatrical groups in its new Līhu‘e space, including Kaua‘i Performing Arts Center and its upcoming production of The Addams Family musical.

“It gives new people opportunities to explore their own creative talents,” says Kalb.

Right now, however, she’s looking forward to presenting Greater Tuna to the community. And so are Hutton and Kulhanek, who are hysterical during a recent rehearsal. It doesn’t seem like they need much more practice to fill their characters’ shoes.

“There are very few actors on this island that you can put together by themselves for 90 minutes on the stage,” says director Cass Foster.

This is Foster’s first time working with Kulhanek, and he’s impressed by her multi-faceted acting abilities. And having worked with Hutton before, he already knew that the actor had the same skill set and talent.

“They don’t need much direction,” says Foster. “And they work more than they’re expected to work.”

The plan for Women in Theatre is to continue producing plays on the “edgy” side.

“It’s a work in process that we are continuing to evolve and unfold and find our feet and our bearing here and get everything built up from there,” says Kalb. “It takes a village, and we welcome other people in the community to join us and participate in the process.”

To purchase tickets or make a donation, and for more information, visit womenintheatre.org.

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