Tom Ford, here performing in “Greater Tuna” at Portland Stage 10 years ago, returns to star in “A Tuna Christmas” this season. Photo by Aaron Flacke

Tom Ford’s favorite holiday stories – “A Christmas Carol” and “It’s A Wonderful Life” – have a bit of darkness in them before the main character finds redemption.

The veteran actor, who moved to Portland recently, said the latest production at Portland Stage, “A Tuna Christmas,” follows a similar arc.

“I think the journey is much more comic, but the message lives in that same world,” he said.

After six straight years of staging a production of either “A Christmas Carol” or “It’s A Wonderful Life” during the holiday season, Portland Stage this year decided to do something different.

“A Tuna Christmas” is the second in a series of four comedic plays written by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard. Each is set in the fictional town of Tuna, Texas, and features a cast of eccentric characters that simultaneously humanize and satirize their community. The plays are notable in that only two actors play all the parts.

Ford previously was cast in the first play, “Greater Tuna,” at Portland Stage back in 2012, which featured the same director – Julia Gibson.


The Texas native grew up not far from Williams’ hometown, the basis for Tuna, and said getting a chance to step into the roles feels like a bit of a homecoming.

“I remember when I first heard about the play in the early ’80s, I thought, ‘I’ve got to read that,’” Ford said. “I just knew all the people in the play. I felt like they were speaking to me. They have created a real mythology of this town.”

The first Tuna play was written in 1981 in response to and reaction against the rise of the Moral Majority, a political organization associated with the Christian right and the Republican Party, founded a couple years prior. Subsequent plays have continued to satirize the life and characters in a conservative small town.

Ford saw “A Tuna Christmas” on Broadway in 1994, with Williams and Sears playing the parts they had co-written. Sears was nominated for a Tony award for his performance.

“It’s still one of my favorite theater experiences,” Ford said.

Ford, who has 15 acting credits at Portland Stage, will be joined by actor Nathaniel Claridad, who will be making his Portland Stage debut.


“Nathaniel is fantastic, I’m so thrilled,” Ford said. “There is a certain level of nervousness when you meet your cast … I think we clicked really quickly.”

Ford remembers first auditioning for Portland Stage more than 20 years ago for a role in the Samuel Beckett play “Waiting for Godot.”

“It was a clowny, goofy audition, and I didn’t get the part,” he said. “But (artistic director) Anita Stewart reached out to my agent and said, ‘We loved him even though he’s not getting hired this time.’ No one does that.”

A year later, Stewart called Ford’s agent and asked him to read for another part, which he got.

“She keeps hiring me,” he said.

More local shows could be in Ford’s future, too. He and his partner moved to Maine last year after living for many years in Idaho. They were looking to resettle and were drawn to the state’s proximity to larger acting markets and the good memories from Portland Stage.

As for the upcoming show, Ford said he hopes people find the same uplifting message in a slightly less familiar show.

“It’s such a funny show, and I think people need to be able to laugh again,” he said. “But it’s also about what hope can spring from letting go of expectations.”

“A Tuna Christmas” will run Wednesdays through Sundays from Nov. 30 through Dec. 24 at Portland Stage, 25 Forest Ave., Portland. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday shows start at 7:30 p.m., with an extra show on Tuesday, Dec. 20. Saturday matinees are at 3:30 p.m., with the exception of Dec. 24, which is at noon. There are also 8 p.m. performances on Dec. 11 and 18. Sunday shows are at 2 p.m. To better accommodate patrons, Portland Stage has designated one week of performances, Dec. 14-18, where masks are required. Tickets range from $25 to $65. For more information, go to

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