He may have been dead for 103 years but in the minds of many Americans he’s immortal, and now he’s coming to the Laguna Playhouse. Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as Mark Twain will, beginning on Nov. 21, take the stage embodied by Val Kilmer in the play titled “Citizen Twain.”
The show had been scheduled for five performances but, since tickets are selling rapidly according to Kilmer, a sixth one has just been added.
Small wonder: Nearly anyone educated in the US has read the tales of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and the populace settled on the banks of the Mississippi river, Americas most storied thoroughfare.
Many regard Twain as the quintessential chronicler of the American psyche, an observer bent on telling the truth unvarnished and the way he saw it, undaunted by having to leave school at age 12.
“The play has grown out of a film project on Twain and his complex relationship with Mary Baker Eddy but the play is a solely a character study of Mark Twain taken from his own autobiography,” said Kilmer.
He went on to say that the production focuses on aspects of his writing and life and social commentary that is still as pointedly applicable today as it was 100 years ago. “If we were to chose a narrator of our story as Americans, it would have to be Mark Twain. His wit is timeless, he made people laugh then and makes them laugh now,” Kilmer said.
Kilmer has been writing the film version on and off for 10 years, he said. The play itself has been performed for a year and is still a work in progress in so far as it is being fine-tuned with every venue. To widen the process, he has invited audiences to stay for post performance question and answer sessions.
“It’s not finished, I am refining it to the point where it can go to Broadway,” he explained.
Kilmer is launching the shows with little advertising, relying on audience word of mouth born out of laughter.
Hal Holbrook established a template for the one-man show several years ago, but Playhouse artistic director Ann E. Wareham said that Kilmer expands on Holbrook’s performance. “Honestly, when I saw Val’s performance in Pasadena I was taken by the idea that Val’s portrayal is probably much closer to who Mark Twain really was: a man of incredible wit and intelligence…” she wrote via email. “I believe Val has captured Twain beautifully and with the most full-bodied performance we’ll see perhaps in our lifetimes.”
Previously, it had been at the Pasadena Playhouse, the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, the Valley Performing Arts Center in Northridge and the Wyly Theatre in Dallas, Texas. “We have not aimed for a home theater but are going where the audiences are,” said Kilmer. As for Laguna Beach, he praised its beauty and a guarantee of an arts oriented, intelligent audience, calling the Playhouse “a natural venue.”
The audience will be reminded that Twain spent his formative years in a bustling place on the Mississippi called Hannibal, years that shaped his vision and his desire to tell the story of its people, replicated throughout Americana.
Kilmer is no stranger to characterization of intriguing characters. A Juilliard graduate, he has been ranked as one of the “Top Movie Stars of All Time.” Movie buffs will remember him as Iceman in “Top Gun,” the lead in “Batman Forever” and Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone’s “The Doors.”
In his current impersonation, he emphasizes that Twain’s observations of human nature are unflaggingly profound and invaluable. “Mark Twain has been a daily inspiration and is my offering to the audience. I am inspired by his love of humanity,” he said.