REVIEW WRITTEN BY FRANK BURD
For Digital First Media
The actor Hal Holbrook has been performing as Mark Twain for some sixty years. After seeing Tom Teti a few years ago at People’s Light and now at Act II in Ambler portray Twain, I suspect that he too could play the part for the rest of his acting days. Teti is Twain. And this new production is one which Teti has authored himself.
In this more recent incantation, Teti has joined with pianist and sometimes narrator, Sonny Leo to give, a fuller look at Twain. Yes, it is full of the quips, jokes, and one-liners that made Twain an American institution. “I was born modest, but it wore off.” And “When I was younger, I could remember everything, whether it happened or not.” He was a touring one-man show long after the publication of his famous books and stories.
Now, he is filling us in about some of his life- his adventures of trying to ride a bicycle as an adult, which he tries to demonstrate. We learn of the different names he tried out before claiming Mark Twain as his nom de plume (he was born Samuel Clemens). I learned that he was a redhead before he turned white.
Teti cleverly and beautifully enacts a scene from “Tom Sawyer” that is a treat. And never is there a moment when we think, this isn’t Mark Twain. He also reads to us from one of my favorite Twain stories, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” Needless to say, he shares “Huckleberry Finn” with us.
His most famous work and a mainstay in the classroom, “Huckleberry Finn” has come under fire for the use of the word describing Huck’s travel mate, Jim. Many have suggested that the n-word preceding Jim’s name be replaced with the word “slave.” In “Mark Twain Unplugged,” Teti’s Twain tries to explain his upbringing and his use of the word.
He reminds us that he was born into a slave state twenty-five years before the Civil War, that his family owned slaves for a while, but then, “rented” slaves from other slave owners. But he also tells us a touching story about his mother’s dealing with young Samuel’s frustration over one of these hired black children.
And Twain reads to us from an episode on the raft with Jim wherein Huck fools Jim in a rather humiliating way. Then, realizing his errors, he wishes he could apologize by kissing Jim’s feet… It is complex, the way Huck is a complex young man, trying to come to grips with the moral conflict in the society in which he lives.
Sounds like a lot to pack into a 70 minute show, but it is thoroughly entertaining. Though the passage Teti read from “Huckleberry Finn” was a bit on the lengthy side, the rest of the rhythm of the show is brisk. Whether or not you know much about Mark Twain, you will feel better educated and full of understanding of this amazing man who was born in the year of Halley’s Comet and died 75 years later, and it’s next appearance. You will also leave with a smile in your heart.
IF YOU GO
What: “Mark Twain Unplugged”
When: 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.