Huckleberry of a Show:
Pequot Library marks 100th anniversary of Twain’s passing
(Posted to Fairfield.Patch.com 1/9)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.
Southport, CT – If Mark Twain were alive today and had known about the performance, he may have made the trek down from his Hartford home to enjoy it. He certainly would have been acquainted with the subject matter.
To mark the 100th anniversary of the passing of the great American author, on Sunday afternoon Southport’s Pequot Library presented “Mark Twain: Adventures in American Humor”, a program that included a lively, three-actor performance and historical characterization based on the author’s life and writings.
Twain, born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in Florida, Missouri in 1835, is one of the most famous American writers of all time. As a boy, he dreamed of becoming a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River. As a young man, he tried his hand at various trades from printing to silver mining. But he is best known for the many books he wrote, including “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”
The library’s Executive Director Dan Snydacker said the program aligns with the publication by the University of California at Berkeley Press of Twain’s official autobiography, of which Volume One of a multi-volume set has just been released. Said Snydacker, “Twain is really at the center of American letters. He was groundbreaking in so many ways and tackled head-on the issues of slavery in ‘Huckleberry Finn’. The African-American character, Jim, had humanity, which was unique at the time it was published. It has been a long gradual road in literature since for African-Americans to gain equal recognition.”
Snydacker added that the program was “a great opportunity to do something intergenerational, which is one of our key objectives – to bring families and the community together. It’s also a great way to start off the year and a great thing to do on a Sunday afternoon.”
The program’s three featured actors were Carl Howell, Cary Hite and Ashton Crosby, as Twain. They were as enthusiastic about the performance as the audience, which completely filled the library’s high-ceilinged meeting room space.
“I live in New York and it’s so much fun to take the show to small towns and new audiences,” said Howell, who primarily played Tom Sawyer. “While Twain was born in Missouri, he spent a lot of time in Connecticut. This is an audience that understands the significance of his work and legacy.” Added Hite, “I grew up reading Twain, so this enhanced my education about him. I love his humor and use of and celebration of the American language.”
While the actors related biographical highlights of Twain’s life and traded select dialogue from his most famous books, audio cues like steamboat whistles and projected imagery such as historical portraits enhanced the show, which has been performed three to four times a year since 2005 when it debuted at Lincoln Center. Written by Cecelia Rubino, it has since played primarily to regional libraries and schools.
Twain fans were abundant in the audience. “I love to support an author like Mark Twain,” said Southporter Virginia Arndt. “And I’ve seen a lot about him in current press which has put him top of mind. I thought it would be fascinating to learn more about him.”
Fairfielder David Thornton said, “My daughter Mary goes to UConn and is an English major and has read most of Twain’s books. I personally would like to have had a chance to have a drink with him. I understand he liked to have a pop now and then.”
Ridgefield resident Ken Wippermann came to support a cast member. “Ashton Crosby’s brother is my sister’s husband, so I came to root him on. Of course, I also like Mark Twain.”
As the performance wrapped, the actors offered some concluding Twain thoughts. “Respect your superiors… if you have any” and “Respect your parents… when they’re around.” It was a classic Twain close – sound advice with a twist of humor.