by Rich Arenschieldt
Known for his decades-long involvement with Greater Tuna and other commentaries on small-town Texas life, actor and writer Jaston Williams returns to Galveston’s Grand with his next installment of hilarity, Maid Marion in a Stolen Car.
“Maid Marion actually had its genesis in an essay I wrote remembering a production of Hamlet that I had been in several years ago,” Williams says. “We were performing for groups of high school students, and at one show, two rival schools arrived simultaneously. What followed was one of the most visceral audience reactions to a piece of theater I had ever experienced—no audience understood the tension of Shakespeare the way these two competing groups did.
“If you’ve been performing for any length of time,” he says, “interesting and wonderfully innocuous things will sometimes happen. The first act of Maid Marion has [longtime collaborator] Joe Sears and I sitting in a tree having a series of conversations [while in a slightly altered mental status] unknowingly formulating what would eventually become our most famous effort, Greater Tuna.
“Maid Marion differs from my other works,” he continues, “in that it recalls a life lived in the theater—being a gay kid from west Texas who was enamored with the art form without even realizing it. To a certain degree, everything I write has an autobiographical element to it. My previous piece, Blame It on Valentine, did, and Maid Marion does, even more so. Fortunately, I’ve turned this script over to a wonderful director, Sarah Richardson. In addition to directing, she’s an amazing actor; we had worked together in The Laramie Project.
“I sent her the material and she agreed to direct it,” Williams recalls, “transforming it into a piece that pays tribute to a theatrical life. I find the best directors are those who comprehend linguistic complexity and nuance, often simply rearranging a sentence to maximize its impact—sometimes written words translate differently when spoken onstage. Sarah was able to take what I had written and mold it in such a way that it speaks to audiences in a sincere and authentic way.
“The theatrical world is comprised of outsiders—most of us were never chosen first to play football (or anything else) and, consequently, a community of actors is a very forgiving place where everyone is looked after and cared for—as a gay person, I landed in the right place. I don’t have anything to hide at all,” Williams adds. “I have been at this a long time, self-identifying as homosexual since the 1970s. Through the years I’ve carried my share of rainbow flags, but these days people just have to see what is right in front of them—my family, my son, all of us just living like everyone else in our neighborhood.
“Many people will believe anything the news media tells them about homosexuality,” he says, “no matter how absurd it is. When individuals actually see someone out of [what they believe to be a] typically gay context—as a parent raising children or attending church—they must believe what their eyes show them. This is often very disarming, but usually the situation just presents itself in a very sort of matter-of-fact way.
“Maid Marion reveals all of the craziness and indulgence associated with theatrical life,” Williams says. “It eventually comes full circle, ending a peaceful place where I and those I love are today—in small-town Texas, living with my partner and a 17-year-old special-needs son whom we adopted 10 years ago.
“Maid Marion is the most theatrical piece I’ve ever written,” he says. “Audiences know that, within the context of my work, I’m willing to present and examine anything. They are often curious to see where ‘the theater’ will take them.”
What: Maid Marion in a Stolen Car
When: Friday, November 28, at 8 pm, and Saturday, November 29, at 2 pm and 8 pm
Where: The Grand 1894 Opera House, 2020 Postoffice Street, Galveston
For information and tickets: 800.821.1894 or thegrand.com