Five minutes into the dark theatre and Mark Twain is already late for his guests. Stormy is the night and a calmly geriatric scent of mothballs permeates the air. Finally, the humorist arrives, bursting through, ushering us all into the warm light of the fireplace.
Ron Jewell, smothering himself in the author's sauce for 35 years, is nowhere to be seen for this Mark Twain (aka Samuel Langhorne Clemens) takes over and passes the brooding weather with stories of the people in his life and the experiences he's come into.
There's a taste licking the ear of an accent, not of a region or county pattern, but one of country. An overseas hint like a Slavic or European region on the globe. Gruff at first, the man is soon welcoming all to pull up a chair and listen to him talk and crack open his brain of thoughts and observations on his life.
Quipping as his seat hits the chair, the satiric chortles are in and the night is set. Twain appears to be a lonely man, even more so on reflecting on his late wife, Olivia. Old it be, but the snark and liveliness of the man is apparent while tapping, sitting in his chair not smoking a cigar.
There's no need to fully know the catalogue, even a cursory glance of the library will suffice, and that's pushing the need to know to much a degree. Reading beforehand of any of his speeches or novels is a mere bonus layer to the history seeping out.
Jewell jokes that even stepping out of the shower he still looks like Twain
Recalling and reciting one of his talks, that being the dairy of the Biblical Adam & Eve, the touching tale of the two builds gently toward a climatic punch of endearing love. Exhaustion visibly sighs from the reading, sitting now at his desk from the lectern of day one.
Gruff on the outer, his heart and keen eye avails itself to those in attendance. Defiant even, he remarks the oncoming spectre of Halley's Comet for a divine bookend of his own life:
I came in with Halley's Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don't go out with Halley's Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: "Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together." Oh! I am looking forward to that.
Then, we are done. But not quite. Stay with your laps.
Seldom in theatre, Jewell returns and retains Twain at the close to deliver an encore postscript. Recalling one of the opening scenes in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer the attention of the audience fixes eyeballs on the reading and stays a little longer ear in tow, a little more in the company of this performance.
Back into the darkness Twain walks off and leaves us empty again.
Single shot of 70 minutes on Thursday, 14 April 2011 at The Center for Rural Development in Somerset, Kentucky
Reviewed on Sunday, 17 April 2011