A DiSalvo ‘Tuna Christmas’: Thomas, Dillon, and Frank on Parlor Room Theater’s ‘A Tuna Christmas’ Playing 12/17-20

It’s an all-family affair at Parlor Room Theater‘s A Tuna Christmas and Thomas, Dillon, and Frank DiSalvo, Jr. tell us all about it.

Joel: This production of A Tuna Christmas is has several family members in it and behind the scenes. Introduce them to us, and tell us what they are contributing to the production.

Director Frank DiSalvo, Jr.
Director Frank DiSalvo Jr.

Frank: Well my brothers Thomas and Dillon comprise the entire cast, each playing eleven characters. Our mother, Ember, is putting together the costumes. Our sister, Emberlein, is going to be one of our crew members. And then there’s me, directing. And of course we’re working with several other non-family members to fill out the production team.

We wondered at first if just us three brothers in the rehearsal room would be difficult, because usually you’re working with at least a few strangers in the mix, so you’re on your best behavior. But we’ve all been committed to maintaining professionalism in the rehearsal room, so it’s been productive.

Joel: Thomas and Dillon: You each play 11 characters. Briefly, describe each one of the 11 characters you play.

Dillon DiSalvo as Petey Fisk in ' A Tuna Christmas.' Photo courtesy of Parlor Room Theater.
Dillon DiSalvo as Petey Fisk in ‘ A Tuna Christmas.’ Photo courtesy of Parlor Room Theater.

Dillon:

Arles Struvie – He is the old, celebrity cowboy who likes a nip of hooch and having “one hell of a good time.”

Did Snavely – She can sense weakness, and she would probably prefer to shoot you than shake your hand.

Petey Fisk – He has an affinity for animals and a propensity for getting mauled by them.

Jody Bumiller – He is a 12 year-old boy who apparently doesn’t give a dern about what his mama thinks.

Charlene Bumiller – She has her mind set on theatre and thinks her job is more important than it really is.

Stanley Bumiller – He is ready to kick the dust of Tuna off his proverbial sandals where everyone seems to regard him with suspicion.

Vera Carp – She has money and lets everyone know it because she has a lot of time on her hands.

Dixie Deberry – She is a cantankerous old battleaxe who knows the language of the birds.

Helen Bedd – Her bubbly persona makes her seem ditsy, but she knows what’s going on.

Farley Burkhalter – He is always coming up short, but he has a big appetite.

Garland Poteet – He is repetitive and likes to laugh at soda jokes.

Thomas DiSalvo as Thurston Wheelis in 'A Tuna Christmas.'
Thomas DiSalvo as Thurston Wheelis in ‘A Tuna Christmas.’

Thomas:

Thurston Wheelis – One of the main local radio personalities in Tuna, Texas.

Elmer Watkins – The spokesman for Klan 249.

Bertha Bumiller – A middle-aged mother who is tired of trying to keep her family together.

R.R. Snavely – The dim-witted husband of Didi Snavely that sees U.F.Os.

Aunt Pearl Burras – The feisty matriarch of Bertha’s family and local chicken farmer.

Sheriff Buford Givens – The not-so-bright and disliked sheriff of Tuna, Texas.

Ike Thompson – A red-neck construction worker who lives in local beer joints.

Leonard Childers – A local radio personality with loose morals.

Phoebe Burkhalter – She’s four feet tall when her hair is ratted to its full height.

Joe Bob Lipsey – The ever troubled local community theater director.

What would the perfect Christmas gift for each one of your characters be?

Dillon:

Arles Struvie – a date on Saturday night.

Did Snavely – for a UFO to snatch up her worthless husband.

Petey Fisk – to not lose any limbs.

Jody Bumiller – a bunch of kittens!

Charlene Bumiller – a wedding with another character.

Stanley Bumiller – a one way ticket out of Tuna.

Vera Carp – the yard display trophy.

Dixie Deberry –  revenue for the municipality.

Helen Bedd – a new job.

Farley Burkhalter – a couple of baby burgers and a medium fries.

Garland Poteet – just a Coca-Cola.

How would each one of your characters answer this question: If you could have one wish granted for you on Christmas Day, what would it be?

Thomas:

Thurston Wheelis would love some bubble lights.

Elmer Watkins would love some false eyebrows.

Bertha Bumiller wants a burglar alarm.

R.R. Snavely wants a bottle of whiskey.

Aunt Pearl Burras would love a sling-shot.

Sheriff Buford Givens wants a new pair of aviator sunglasses.

Ike Thompson would love a never ending tab at the local bar.

Leonard Childers wants a mustache trimmer.

Phoebe Burkhalter would love new platform shoes.

Joe Bob Lipsey wants a new assistant director.

How would each one of your characters answer this question: If you could have one wish granted for you on Christmas Day, what would it be?

Dillon:

The same as above!

Thomas:

Thurston Wheelis wishes he could be a national radio broadcaster.

Elmer Watkins wishes that this year’s Annual Christmas Family Night & Skeet Shoot is injury free.

Bertha Bumiller wishes her family could be together for Christmas.

R.R. Snavely wishes a U.F.O. would take him far away from his wife.

Aunt Pearl Burras wishes her nephew Stanley would get off probation.

Sheriff Buford Givens wishes to catch the mischievous Christmas Phantom.

Ike Thompson wishes his wife doesn’t find out about another woman he’s seeing.

Leonard Childers wishes for a quick recovery from broken bones.

Phoebe Burkhalter wishes she could be tall enough to see out of the truck window.

Joe Bob Lipsey wishes someone would pay the overdue light bill at the local theater.

Which characters are most like you in real life? And how are they like you? And if you could become one of these characters forever-who would it be and why would you select this person?

Dillon: I feel as though I am most like Petey and Arles. Arles is laid back, likes a nip of hooch, and is in entertainment. Petey loves animals and tries to stay positive. I would pick Arles mostly because he is on the radio and gets to go to Sand City for Chinese food. That seems worth it.

Thomas: Aunt Pearl and Bertha are probably most like me. They both care deeply about their family and want everyone to be happy at Christmastime. They also both have a sense of humor even when the going gets tough. If I could be one of the characters I would be Thurston; I’ve always thought it’d be fun to be a news anchor on the radio. He and Arles are great friends and have a lot of fun in their daily broadcasts. I would love to have a job that was that much fun on a daily basis.

Dillon DiSalvo as Didi Snavely and Thomas DiSalvo as R.R. Snavely .
L to R: Dillon DiSalvo as Didi Snavely and Thomas DiSalvo as R.R. Snavely .

Which character was the hardest for you to master, and why?

Dillon: Vera Carp, because the voice is the most challenging and the line between stupidity and knowing what she is doing is hard to toe.

Thomas: Bertha was the hardest for me to get a hold on. A lot of the characters I play are challenging but it took a lot of work before rehearsal even started to play Bertha. I’ve never had to play a middle-aged mother before and being a twenty-something guy I needed to completely change my physicality. It’s tough but it’s a lot of fun.

What is some of the best advice that Frank gave you on how to play these characters, especially when you were having some problems and challenges?

Dillon: Don’t overdo them. They aren’t caricatures.

Thomas DiSalvo.
Thomas DiSalvo.

Thomas: Frank wrote the original director and one of the co-authors, Ed Howard, for advice and he kindly wrote back. Frank passed along this bit of advice from Mr. Howard that’s been most helpful: “My only advise is to serve the characters and let them take over, and they’ll take care of you. I believe our job is to give these eternal spirits physical life in the temporal world and an audience before which to bear their souls.” The text of this play is fantastic in and of itself and doesn’t need any kind of spicing up or reaching for a laugh. Whenever we are having trouble with a scene or a bit Frank reminds us to trust the text. Let it speak for itself. That is when these characters come to life and seem most real. I’ve always loved working with Frank. He has directed Dillon and me in numerous things since early childhood (from plays in our grandparents’ living room to skits in the Boy Scouts) so we have a wonderful rapport and chemistry that you can’t find anywhere else. Working on this show has been such a treat because of that.

What would you like for Christmas and if you had one wish that could be granted – what would it be?

Dillon: I would like a new bass guitar. My one wish would be to have more frequent paying music gigs.

Thomas: I would love to get the entire Mad Men series on Blu-ray! That show is amazing and is probably my all time favorite drama. If you haven’t seen it yet I would highly recommend it. My favorite character is Roger Sterling (played by John Slattery) and I could go on about it all day but I’ll stop there. As far as my wish is concerned I would wish for happy, healthy lives for me and my family and friends for the coming year.

How many costumes do you wear in the show? Which two are your favorites and if you could keep one of the costumes forever-which one would it be and why would you choose that one? Who is helping you do the costume changes?

Dillon: At least 12 costumes. I don’t know if I’d keep any costumes. And hopefully someone who is on the ball is helping me change backstage!

Thomas: I will be wearing ten costumes in the show. My two favorites are R.R.’s and Inita’s. R.R. wears a messed up fedora and coveralls and it has a goofy timelessness to it. It reminds me of Art Carney in The Honeymooners. Inita wears a classic diner waitress outfit and it’s just a lot of fun. It’s not everyday I get to wear a dress like that. If I could keep one forever it would be R.R.’s because I love that hat and those coveralls. I’ve always liked that look. We will have two wonderful dressers backstage to help us with our changes. Out of the 39 changes Dillon and I have, luckily there are only a couple that happen at the same time so it won’t be too hectic backstage.

What have been some of the craziest things that have happened in rehearsals?

Dillon DiSalvo.
Dillon DiSalvo.

Dillon: Thomas dropped his character’s cane once (while sitting) and then decided that he had to fall on the floor, completely halting the scene.

Thomas: The craziest things happen when Dillon and I really let go and have a lot of fun. There have been many times where rehearsal grinds to a halt because the three of us are laughing so hard we can’t go on. We’ve been performing together for twenty-ish years so the inside joke repertoire goes very deep. Nothing too crazy has happened, though. One funny thing happened when we were first rehearsing a scene with Aunt Pearl. I accidentally dropped my cane and followed my impulse by proceeding to fall on the ground. That was one of those moments where we had to hold rehearsal until we stopped laughing.

Why should local theatregoers come and see A Tuna Christmas when they have so many other Christmas show choices?

Dillon: This show is funnier and better written than any other Christmas show a person has the chance to see this season. It also has a poignant message.

Thomas: The play itself is fantastic. I love comedies and this is by far the funniest and most enjoyable one I have ever done or seen. Even though it is incredibly ridiculous and goofy throughout, there are heartfelt moments that make the characters real and you really feel for them. There is no show that I know of that’s like this. People should also come to see two brothers play eleven characters each! That’s what really brings a lot of the energy and excitement to the show, wondering what the next costume will be and how crazy it will be. There is no way you could come to see this show and not leave smiling.

Parlor Room Theater Tuna Christmas Ad 728x90 (1)

A Tuna Christmas plays from December 17-20, 2015 at Parlor Room Theater performing at The Fine Arts Theatre on the campus of Bishop McNamara High School – 6800 Marlboro Pike, in Forestville, MD. For tickets, call (800) 838-3006, buy them at the door, or purchase them online.

PRT Tuna 200 square ad (1)

Thursday, December 17th at 7:30 pm (Pay What You Can Preview)
Friday, December 18th at 7:30 pm
Saturday, December 19th at 2 pm and 7:30 pm
Sunday, December 20th at 2 pm and 7:30 pm

Tickets $20 at the door and $15 in advance

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Joel Markowitz
Joel Markowitz is the Publisher and Editor of DCMetroTheaterArts. He founded the site with his brother Bruce to help promote the vast riches of theatre and the arts in the DC Metro area that includes Maryland, Virginia, and DC theater and music venues, universities, schools, Children's theaters, professional, and community theatres. Joel is an advocate for promoting the 'stars of the future' in his popular 'Scene Stealers' articles. He wrote a column for 5 years called ‘Theatre Schmooze’ and recorded podcast interviews for DC Theatre Scene. His work can also be seen and read on BroadwayStars. Joel also wrote a monthly preview of what was about to open in DC area theatres for BroadwayWorld. He is an avid film and theater goer, and a suffering Buffalo Bills and Sabres fan. Joel was a regular guest on 'The Lunch and Judy Show' radio program starring Judy Stadt in NYC. Joel founded The Ushers Theatre Going Group in the DC area in 1990, which had a 25-year run when it took its final curtain call last year. Joel is a proud member of The American Critics Association.