STORY WRITTEN BY TARA LYNN JOHNSON
For 21st Century Media
Mark Twain lives! At least for a few weeks, at Act II Playhouse. Actor and writer Tom Teti takes the stage as the famous 19th century American author in the world première of his one-man show, “Mark Twain Unplugged.”
The play focuses on a Twain speech from the mid-1800s and features live music from the era, as well as Teti in a white suit like the one most associated with the writer. Based in truth and on a person who actually existed, the play features much that will be verbatim as Twain said or wrote it, but some of it is fictional.
“It’s a play with a character named Mark Twain,” Teti said.
The goal is to reveal what it was like to be Mark Twain, a man who lectured and toured and made many public appearances in front of large audiences.
“He was America’s first rock star,” Teti said.
Teti previously portrayed Twain in “Sacred Cows Make the Best Hamburgers” at People’s Light, but this is the first time he’s doing so in a one-man show that he wrote.
Teti, a history and literature buff, became a Twain fan in college, though he had read some of the author’s work as a child. During his research for the play, Teti found some Twain facts surprising: Twain was curious about inventions and invested in business schemes with no success; he traveled often; he had many jobs during his life; and he’s one of the most photographed writers.
“When you go through the pictures of him as a young man, there are so many different looks — with the mustache, without, with red hair,” he said.
Teti also came to appreciate Twain’s softer side.
“I’m heartened and amused at his love of cats,” he said. “I can relate to his wanting to have them around.”
Teti’s a great admirer of Twain’s writing — novels, short stories, essays, and articles about a wide variety of topics.
“He was so prolific,” Teti said. “He wrote about everything he saw. His writing to me is like the first movie camera. You get this cinematic view of everything.”
For Teti, writing the play was difficult. Choosing what to include and leave out, with so much to pick from, was a challenge. Rehearsing isn’t easy either.
“Eventually I think I will call it fun,” Teti said. “It’s a hard task made harder by wanting to do justice to this icon.”
Teti, who has been acting professionally since 1980 on many Philadelphia region stages, is happy to be doing this hard work at Act II, directed by the theater’s artistic director, Tony Braithwaite, who has performed in many one-man shows.
“Tony’s great,” Teti said. “It’s great to have that kind of leadership and confidence, and the ideas that he brings.”
Braithwaite is excited to have Teti at Act II.
“Tom’s a funny man, an insightful artist, and one of the titans in Philadelphia theater circles,” Braithwaite said. “He is a charming, lovable, regular guy, much like Twain.”
Teti hopes audiences will find his Twain relatable. He wants people to laugh and enjoy the quips and tales the author is known for, and perhaps to hear things they haven’t or learn things they didn’t know. And he hopes the Polar Vortex remains at bay.
“I hope it’s great,” Teti said. “And I hope it doesn’t get too cold because I’m wearing a white linen suit.”
IF YOU GO
What: “Mark Twain Unplugged”
When: Previews Jan. 20-22; opens 8 p.m. Fri. Jan. 23; runs Wed.-Sun. through Feb. 8.
Where: Act II Playhouse, 56 E. Butler Ave., Ambler.
Tickets: Admission is $24-$35, with discounts available for subscribers, seniors and students.
Info.: Visit www.act2.org or call (215) 654-0200.