"I've got to buy and read Huckleberry Finn," I said.
That's the first thing I said, as we got in the car after watching Hal Holbrook be Mark Twain the other night at UCO, part of the Broadway Tonight program bringing actors to town, directed by Greg White.
Holbrook's been performing Mark Twain Tonight! for more than 50 years in more than 2,200 performances. Though he is now 89 and stooped, he held us mesmerized for almost three hours with wit, wisdom and acting so fine you know you are in the presence of Mark Twain himself. Not only does Holbrook look like Twain, he is Twain.
Asked ahead of time for a program, he declined, saying that would inhibit his inspiration. The Emmy and Tony award winner chooses material as he goes along, with every word spoken coming from Mark Twain in the early 1900s, plus an excerpt from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
I found it interesting that his words from 1905 were so true today. Most of the program included Twain's comedic remarks, sarcasm and wit with barbs thrown to three major subjects--Congress, the media, and religion. I get the feeling those were selected with conservative Oklahoma in mind.
If you wonder how this red state crowd took to it, there was lots of laughter and tears of laughter, and some very silent moments when the truth was painful or almost brought tears of sadness. Twain could have been writing those words yesterday, they fit our country so well, congress owned by corporations and big money, the media full of opinion and distorted facts, and religions full of hatred and judgment, and making fun of them ignoring science.
We were in the presence of greatness.
The other highlight was when he recited and acted out a large portion of a chapter from Huck Finn--without notes, using different voices for different characters. The scene took at least 15 or 20 minutes, and the audience was dead silent at the story telling, the power of the words, and the art on state. The stage was sparse--an oak library table, some books, a chair, and a small podium...and Mark Twain.
We found out later that instead of going out to eat at fancy places, he preferred I-Hop, and paid for his own meals.
His closing lines were, "Well, my teeth are loose, so it's time to go. Good Night."
I've since bought The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn at Full Circle Book Store, and after just a few nights, am halfway through it. The reading is so easy, in spite of the dialects, and the story so strong...like the current of the Mississippi, and irony so powerful. I've found the excerpts Holbrook acted out, and they are as alive as he performed.
I hear Huck Finn calling.
"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Songs of the Pioneers song from TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon's old-fashioned newspaper column, cross-breeding watercolor, metaphors and journalism, for readers in more than 150 countries.