A lifetime of Twain
Each year I look forward to receiving the flier from the Lutcher Theater announcing the upcoming season’s lineup of shows. When I saw the listing for Hal Holbrook performing Mark Twain Tonight, I knew this was going to be on my must see list.
As I walked through the doors into the main theater, I saw the stage set with just a few props. An arm chair, which I assumed Mr. Holbrook would be sitting in at some point during his show. In the center was a book table with a collection of books, a water pitcher with drinking glass, and an ashtray. To the right was a lectern. All of this was assembled on sizable rug in the middle of the stage. This seemed appropriate as Mark Twain was going to be telling stories throughout the evening.
The lights dimmed and on the left hand side of the stage a puff of smoke blew in. Through the smoke walked Mark Twain and the story telling began. For the first few minutes I had to adjust my listening style and focus on paying attention to what was happening on stage. Full attention had to be given or you were going to miss out on what was being said.
As one that lives in the year 2013 and accustomed to 2013 entertainment, BIG screens, BIG sound, and BIG action, now I am watching one man with minimal support bringing 1905 to life in front of my eyes. Seeing “Mark Twain Tonight!” live on stage was similar to reading a book, your mind fills in many of the blanks that are left. As he is telling the stories, you are living them in your mind. Tom Sawyer is seen as your mind wants him to be seen, he could be a four foot tall, freckle faced, curly red headed child or he could be five feet six inches tall with straight black hair, it doesn’t matter because the story is the focus of you attention.
There is no set script for this play and Mr. Holbrook has been performing it for nearly 60 years. His performance gained strength as the night went on. At the age of 88 he took a while to warm up. He chooses the material for the nights performance as the night evolves. I would think that the news of the day and audience reaction would help to direct the flow of the material presented. My favorite line of the night went something like this, “Congress is just a ‘Stud Farm’ for the Jack Asses of the country.”
Mr. Holbrook touched on many different topics of the day back in 1905, politics, religion, morals, and as he was bringing the stories to life I came to realize that not much has changed in the past 100 years. People are people, religion is religion and politics is politics.