Samuel Clemens, on his days as a newspaper reporter for the Morning Call in San Francisco in the 1860s:
By nine in the morning I had to be [at the] police court for an hour and make a brief history of the squabbles of the night before. … Next, we visited the higher courts, and made notes of the decisions which had been rendered the day before. … During the rest of the day we raked the town from end to end, gathering such material as we might, wherewith to fill our required column—and if there were no fires to report, we started some. At night we visited the six theatres, one after the other: seven nights in the week, three hundred and sixty-five nights in the year. We remained in each of those places five minutes, got the merest passing glimpse of play and opera, and with that for a text we “wrote up” those plays and operas, as the phrase goes, torturing our souls every night, from the beginning of the year to the end of it, in the effort to find something to say about those performances which we had not said a couple of hundred times before. There has never been a time, from that day to this (forty years), that I have been able to look at even the outside of a theatre without a spasm of the dry gripes, as “Uncle Remus” calls it—and as for the inside, I know next to nothing about that, for in all this time I have seldom had a sight of it, nor ever had a desire in that regard which couldn’t have been overcome by argument.
Despite that reticence, Clemens (aka Mark Twain) retained an interest in theater, one that is being exploited over the next few weeks by folks at the Mark Twain House & Museum and elsewhere.
On Jan. 29, there is a free lunchtime lecture by the House & Museum’s Director of Communications Jacques Lamarre—a playwright himself (I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti; a zillion shows for Varla Jean Merman) on “Mark Twain as Playwright.”
Apparently Twain had a number of failed dramatic projects on his resume. Little did he know that he would create a small industry of people dressing up to impersonate him on stage, and that would be theater aplenty for discriminating audiences. Then there are the adaptations of his novels, of which the Hartford area alone has seen several Tom Sawyers, a Huck Finn or two, and an ice show.
On Jan. 21 at 7 p.m., Lamarre creates his own Twain-based theater event, R-Rated Twain, which pores through some of the more ribald passages of the author’s canon. Nobody who’s read Twain extensively doubts that the guy had a mouth on him. There’s a lot of risque material ripe for the plucking here. R-Rated Twain is coupled with a performance of David Ryan Polgar’s one-act Mark Twain: Ladies Man, set in a modern-day bar with Twain helping a lonely guy get a date. Sea Tea Improv, the Hartford-based improv troupe, performs the works. ($20, $15 members).
The Mark Twain House is at 351 Farmington Avenue, Hartford. (860) 247-0998
From Feb. 6-22 in nearby Manchester, the Little Theatre of Manchester is doing Is He Dead?, Twain’s art-themed farce that was successfully adapted by David Ives and staged on Broadway in 2007. The Little Theatre of Manchester is at Cheney Hall, 177 Hartford Rd., Manchester. This is apparently the “first major production” of the play in Connecticut. $19-$24. (860) 647-9824, www.littletheatreofmanchester.org.