Players’ production shows Twain’s wit alive and well

Tales by Twain at the
Pemberville Opera House 11/11/09 (Photos: Aaron Carpenter/Sentinel-Tribune)

One could wonder why we should again revisit the work of Mark Twain given he’s long dead and certainly
from a bygone time. The Black Swamp Players answer any such misgivings straight off in "Twain by
the Tale."
With the whole cast assembled on stage the cast delivers some of his most notable witticisms, that even
if they sound familiar, still ring true, full as they are of keen observations about the foibles of
human beings, the folly of politicians and the futility of self-improvement.
In the end Guy Zimmerman, who serves as Twain’s stand-in during the first half of the show, announces
that the news of his death is "exaggerated." And if "Twain by the Tale" shows
anything, it shows that this is true.
The production opens Friday at 8 p.m. and continues Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at the
Pemberville Opera House.
The show, directed by Scott Regan, is in two parts. The first is a miscellany of Twain’s work, including
odd comic bits and excerpts from his two most famous novels, "Tom Sawyer" and
"Huckleberry Finn."
Twain’s wry, at times acerbic, humor holds the pieces together as does his sense of story. "The
Legend of Sagenfeld," which takes the form of a fable, may seem a very long build up for a punch
line about government ministers, but it is an amusing ramble.

The piece "Etiquette at a Funeral" is a precursor to Dave Letterman’s top 10 list, with Deb
Shaffer and Karrie Bergman reciting seven rules for proper mourning. The late night host would be proud
to come up with the concluding dictum: "Don’t bring your dog."
Throughout the cast shifts from role to role with Zimmerman especially reveling in his turns as Twain and
then as the scoundrel mangling Shakespeare in the excerpt from "Huckleberry Finn."
Here Nate Miller, one of several young actors, gets to play America’s most conscientious ne’er-do-well.
The excerpt captures the moral dilemma of the book: Should Huck do good according to what he’s learned
in church and return Jim to slavery, or do good by doing wrong, by helping free Jim? Huck believes
himself beyond redemption, so he decides to liberate his friend.
Miller also plays Huck opposite Zach Peek as Tom in a bit about getting rid of warts from "Tom
Sawyer," and Katelyn Huffman plays Becky.
Regan draws on Deb Shaffer’s broad comic talent both as censorious correspondent and later as the bubbly,
mischievous little girl, complete with pigtails, in "Advice to Little Girls."
Deb Weiser plays a couple straight roles as Twain’s frustrated editor and as the bureaucrat examining
Noah’s Ark.
The second half, Twain’s "The Diary of Adam and Eve," belongs to Tom Wade and Emily Waters as
Adam and Eve.

Given the sardonic turn of Twain’s wit, the one-act play proves to be surprisingly sentimental. Though he
pokes fun at the relations between men and women in the end his characters conclude that it is better to
focus on the "we" that multiplies than all those things that divide.
In Twain’s telling Eve is vivacious, full of wit and curiosity and Adam is rather a sullen lump, who
mopes about because this new creature is constantly talking. The actors make the most of these contrast
with Wade like a storm cloud toward the back of the stage, and Waters babbling brightly at the front of
the stage.
Much of Eve’s talk is about how she names the animal and tries to figure out how the world works. Adam
does this as well though in his own less refined way.
She wants to admire the beauty of the waterfall; he wants to jump off it.
In the end, Eve notes: "He really does know a multiple of things. They just aren’t so."
In this version of the Genesis story, Adam and Eve go about making the world for themselves, by making up
stories about it. Eve convinces Adam that it was a chestnut, as in a bad old joke, that caused the fall.
And that world they make is one that while full of suffering and pain, so unlike the garden, is also
full of love and hope.
Twain’s words as shown by the Black Swamp Players add greatly to that world, and that’s no exaggeration.