The Mark Twain Show
Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Robi Polgar, Fri., Sept. 20, 2002
The Mark Twain Show: Good-Natured WitThe 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.