The Mark Twain Show

Local Arts Reviews

The Mark Twain Show: Good-Natured Wit

The Auditorium on Waller Creek, through September 22

Running Time: 45 min

Second Youth Family Theatre's season opener is a perky and enjoyable sampler of the works of Samuel Clemens, better known to readers of literature and fence painters the world over as Mark Twain. Playwright Kathryn Schultz Miller has picked several highlights from the author's works and linked them with clever dialogue of her own -- or Twain maxims -- creating a smart little play. And director J. Richard Smith has handed three amiable actors mouthfuls of Twain that clearly are as much fun to perform as they are to hear. The production is kid-friendly, with kazoos, minimal props, and plenty of silliness. But the material is for all ages, with whiffs of seriousness throughout all that fun. There is no stage, just a curtain at the back with the show's title, and an open area on the floor on which Smith neatly places the different scenes. This is a show ready to travel to schools or children's centers, and at a brisk 45 minutes, it should be welcomed by educators all over the Austin area.

Miller's text illuminates four big chunks of literary Twain: the fence painting scene from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, a faux fairy tale of a king searching for a life-saving sound (a fable with a mule kick in its tail), Twain's humorous and moving "diaries" of Adam and Eve, and a scene from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Plus, there are quotable quotes used as jumping-off points into Twain's unique way of looking at the world and a scene in which a frustrated interviewer tries to get Twain to talk truthfully about himself. Each offers a different view of the author's gift for observing and commenting on the human condition, full of those twists and turns of a brilliant, creative, endearing genius.

In the hands and mouths of Joeleen L. Ornt, James B. Shipman, and Nick Walker, the various excerpts and the comedic linking material come to life in a warm and engaging format. Each actor plays a multitude of characters, simply donning a new hat to create kings and peasants, Huck and Tom, or the townsfolk who people Twain's stories. When the actors speak directly to the audience, they really make contact. My daughter was very pleased to suddenly feel as if she were in one scene as an offstage Aunt Polly, keeping vigilant watch of Tom Sawyer as he wheedled boys out of apples and into whitewash. That sort of gentle inclusion is fun for the young ones and keeps everyone on his or her toes.

As always with a Second Youth production, the audience -- the kids especially -- are invited to meet the actors and chat about the play, wrapping up the evening with another chance for all to share in the goodwill and good-natured wit of one of America's finest authors and one of Austin's most pleasing children's theatre troupes.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Arts Reviews
All the Way
All the Way
In Zach Theatre's staging of this epic political drama about LBJ, the fight for civil rights feels particularly urgent

Robert Faires, May 1, 2015

Random Acts of Magic
Random Acts of Magic
The 2015 batch of Out of Ink 10-minute plays is a satisfying buffet of silliness and thoughtfulness

Elizabeth Cobbe, May 1, 2015

More by Robi Polgar
<i>National Geographic: Symphony for Our World</i>
National Geographic: Symphony for Our World
The breathtaking natural history footage combined with live symphonic performance sent a noble message: Save the Earth

Aug. 3, 2018

Review: 2018 Austin Chamber Music Festival
Review: 2018 Austin Chamber Music Festival
How the Attacca Quartet, Emerson Quartet, and invoke played

July 17, 2018

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

The Mark Twain Show, Second Youth Family Theatre, Kathryn Schultz Miller, Samuel Clemens, Mark Twain, J. Richard Smith, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Diaries of Adam and Eve, Joeleen L. Ornt, James B. Shipman, Nick Walker

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle