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Mark Twain Plays


What literary voice is more American than Mark Twain's? His narration can be rowdy and eloquent at the same time. His characters betray ignorance and epiphanies in a single breath.

Mark Twain wrote classic novels, short stories, and essays. Unfortunately, he never bothered with plays. His brilliant tales, however, are frequently adapted for the stage. Here's a glimpse at the best plays inspired by the imitable Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain.

Tom Sawyer:

So takes of that rascally Tom Sawyer have been told countless time, not just by Mark Twain, but by filmmakers, song-writers, and playwrights. Ric Averill’s adaptation features a large cast, family-friendly adventure, and a cost-effective set design for schools and community theaters. It’s a terrific show to bring adult and child actors together – as long as the grown-ups don’t mind when the kids steal the show!

The Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court:

In this imaginative story – written when time-travel tales were rather scarce – the main character is transported to the land of knights and wizards. Then, he promptly starts to modernize everything, much to the chagrin of Merlin! R. Rex Stephenson’s adaptation (published by Eldridge Plays) delivers a fresh perspective with a computer-whiz protagonist, news-casting warlocks, and the basketball-bouncing knights of the round table.

Is He Dead?:

The “long lost” Mark Twain short story was recently brought to fame with its 2007 Broadway debut. Adapted by David Ives, Is He Dead? captures the farcical side of Mark Twain. The play is now available to regional theaters and schools.

Here’s the synopsis: “Jean-François Millet, a young painter of genius, is in love with Marie Leroux but in debt to a villainous picture-dealer, Bastien André. André forecloses on Millet, threatening debtor's prison unless Marie marries him. Millet realizes that the only way he can pay his debts and keep Marie from marrying André is to die, as it is only dead painters who achieve fame and fortune. Millet fakes his death and prospers, all while passing himself off as his own sister, the Widow Tillou. Now a rich "widow," he must find a way to get out of a dress, return to life, and marry Marie.” – From Playscripts.com

Mark Twain in the Garden of Eden:

Those not familiar with much of Twain’s work might assume that simply wrote stories for boys. Of course, he wrote so much more: political satire, travel essays, social commentary, and even philosophy. “Mark Twain in the Garden of Eden,” by the remarkably prolific Tim Kelly, draws upon the author’s perspectives on Adam and Eve and the Fall of Man. The result is a fascinating one-act that features not just Biblical characters, but Mr. Twain as an interactive narrator.

Twain Plus Twain:

Playwright Bernard Sabath combines four hilarious and warm-hearted stories into a single script. In Twain Plus Twain,each short play (which can be performed on its own or together as a full length play) is inspired by the compelling life experiences of Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain). My favorite of the four pieces is the finale in which the 70 year old Twain converses with his younger, rebellious self.

Big River - The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn:

This 1980s musical adaptation of Huckleberry Finn showcases riveting music and lyrics by Roger Miller. All of the fun and adventure of the original novel is enhanced by the choreography and songs. Many other playwrights have tossed out much of the issues of racism, freedom, and morality. Big River doesn’t avoid these topics. William Hauptman’s skillful script delves into the book’s deeply mature themes. (Licensing available through RH Theatricals).

Hal Holbrook's Mark Twain Tonight!

Conceived and performed by the amazing Hal Holbrook, Mark Twain Tonight! is perhaps the most enthralling way to learn about Mark Twain’s life and work. Beginning in the late 1950s, Holbrook first began performing as Twain (although some might say he channels Mark Twain!).

The show’s initial run took place in a small off-broadway venue. But by 1966 Holbrook was on Broadway, earning a Tony Award for his performance. For over fifty years, Holbrook has continued his legendary portrayal of America’s literary genius.

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