Artistic Director Patrick Stinson had the right idea when he decided to run “Mark Twain and the Laughing River,” a one-man show every Tuesday evening this summer at the Clinton Area Showboat Theatre. The Mississippi River serves as a pretty decent backdrop and by the time you locate your theater seat, Clinton’s gorgeous riverfront has fully primed you for the flavor of this show.
The author of “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” among many other classics, is known to readers everywhere as Mark Twain. Born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, he was hailed as the greatest American humorist of his age.
Actor and musician Jim Post portrays Twain in his later years sharing the mesmerizing and extremely entertaining story of his life. Twain was generally poor due to bad investments most of his days and made his main fortune later when he sold the rights to his books and on the lecture circuit.
So this show feels as if today’s audience is attending one of those famous lectures. As Twain once said, “I discovered I could lie for 70 minutes… and people would pay for it”.
Post’s storytelling is generously sprinkled with Twain’s witty quips and observations of society. Dressed in an all-white linen suit, the show opens with an original rousing song from Post featuring homage to the mighty Mississippi.
From there, the show alternates between storytellin’ and song singin.’ The first act consists mainly of Twain’s childhood themes: the river, girls — “who are born human beings,” — and boys — “who are born… well… animals.”
One of my favorite sections involved Twain’s boyhood fascination with a flat, dried, dead frog perfect for scaring girls. But even better was the flat, dried, dead cat that worked as a shovel for digging worms and such.
I found the second act even better. I was entertained by stories of lazy dogs, a new idiot in town — there were always idiots, but this was a new idiot — and great songs telling the story of Twain’s journey through life. “Steamboat Comin!” was one my favorite numbers.
The entire show is performed with just a straight-backed wooden chair placed next to a table with a fresh glass of water. The only other prop is a guitar stand with the look of a Victorian plant stand. As a side note, it was interesting to see the Showboat stage without any adornment and observe the actual size and scope of it.
Post was born in Texas and currently lives in Galena, Ill. He’s been doing this show since 1996 and has received rave reviews on it from Billboard, The Washington Post and the Smithsonian Institute. During his career, he was part of the Chicago Folk scene. Post worked with Steve Goodman, John Prine and with his ex-wife he released “Reach out of the Darkness.” I think it’s so groovy now that people are finally getting together. Remember?
One hour and 45 minutes of “Mark Twain and the Laughing River” made for a very pleasant Tuesday evening. There certainly was laughter on the river the night I was there.
What could be more apropos than listening to Mark Twain describe his lifelong love for riverboats than on an actual riverboat? This is the perfect show for a summer Tuesday night. A nice cool theater with a very interesting performance is a great place to be when it’s 90 degrees.
See you at the theater.
Jami Smith is our local theater reviewer and sales representative at the Clinton Herald. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.