Actor Chris Wallace, born in Ohio, but now a resident and citizen of Australia, says Twain is ‘his kind of American’, and it is easy to see why. There is something really refreshing in hearing and seeing in front of us a shrewd, thoughtful, unpretentious, democratic figure, who makes us laugh, think and wonder, all at the same time. As an Australian, I was also surprised and pleased to feel a kind of expansive New World affinity with this generous nineteenth century figure. Twain’s long experience as journalist and speaker, as well as novelist, brought a wonderful ease and smoothness to his words, and Wallace’s relaxed yet precise and authoritative delivery makes each moment live.
The show tends to skimp the biographical in favour of the literary, but the results are pretty good anyway. Using extracts from some famous and, more interestingly, not-so-famous works, a varied and expressive picture of Twain’s mind and range is steadily presented. The writer’s cynicism about human nature, his dislike of hypocrisy and religiosity, a good slashing attack on war, and a witty, well-performed Elizabethan pastiche based on farting are some intriguing, unexpected additions to our knowledge of, and affection for, the author of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Twain here comes across as much a philosopher as a humorist, and far more interesting than the stereotyped white-suited showman of previous generations.
As regards its form, there is a slight loss of energy when one of the ‘items’ or set-pieces concludes, and either more of the well-played, recorded music, or none, with the action going straight on, may be preferable. This quibble aside, the well-named Mark Twain You Don’t Know is a wide-ranging, skilled and welcome work, played with conviction, and not to be missed.
Olentangy Music presents
The Mark Twain You Don’t Know
A new Australian One-Man Show
Venue: Chapel Off Chapel | 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran
Dates: Thurs 10 May – Sun 27 May
Times: Thurs to Sat @ 8:00pm, Sun @ 5:00pm
Tickets: $27.50 Full, $20.00 Con
Bookings: 8290 7000