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Mark Twain's works revisited at Free Fall Stage in Folsom

Famous writer's shorter pieces adapted for stage
By: Eileen Wilson, Telegraph Correspondent
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KNOW AND GO

What: “Telling Twain”

When: 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays May 3-19

Where: Free Fall Stage, 800 Reading St., Folsom

Cost: $15 general, $12 senior, student, military and SARTA, $7 kids 11 and under. Purchase tickets online, or cash only at the door

Info: Freefallstage.com

FOLSOM, CA - Who would have thought that a boy from Hannibal, Mo., would have become part of America’s cultural consciousness: a boy who got his start as a printer’s apprentice and a typesetter, and even tried his hand as a riverboat pilot?

But that’s exactly what happened when Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, put pen to paper in the mid-1800s.

Most every reader is familiar with his notable works involving Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and those celebrated jumping frogs of Calaveras County.

But many people don’t know much about his shorter works.

That’s exactly what playwright and director, Deanne Eldridge wants to rectify when she brings “Telling Twain” to Free Fall stage, beginning May 3.

Adapting stories into one cohesive play is no easy task. But with the help of teens from her theater workshop, the group has created a delightful, literature-filled evening for all.

“We took these stories from a volume called ‘Sketches old and New.’ It was a matter of which stories were most adaptable for my high school students. I also wanted to pick a good variety,” Eldridge said. “We have short stories, observations, and newspaper columns that Twain wrote.”

The story begins in Twain’s home in Connecticut – a state that most people don’t associate with the author. Twain’s 10-year-old daughter finds his journals and he begins reading pieces and parts to her – that’s when Twain’s story comes to life.

All told, six actors portray Twain’s life stories, with Twain himself portrayed by Stephen Watson, a veteran actor who was involved in theater throughout his college career, and whom the audience might remember from Free Fall’s “An Ideal Husband” last winter.

“Twain is known more for being a humorist than a novelist – he didn’t write novels until the last 20 years of his life,” Eldridge said. “He performed in speaking tours throughout the world, and of course, he was known as a newspaper columnist in California and Nevada.”

Big shoes for an actor to fill? Definitely. Watson agreed that portraying such a famous icon can be a bit daunting.

“Twain is such a famous character – and there are no recordings of his voice that have survived,” Watson said.

Watson said that performing with teens has been a great deal of fun.

“They’re very talented,” he said of the young performers.

If there’s one thing to love about Twain, it’s the man’s love of language. Though Twain’s stories are timeless, his humorous use of language particularly appeals to older members in the audience.

“Kids are just discovering him, but people who are in their 70s and 80s grew up reading his classics,” Eldridge said.

His descriptions, his wit, and his sarcasm make this largely self-educated man one of America’s best writers. His many travelogues and articles became the basis for lectures, and he traveled the world to share his humorous stories that today might be compared to stand-up comedy.

For a great evening of laughs, “Telling Twain” will surely be the hottest ticket in town. After all, who doesn’t love to laugh?

Twain sums it up nicely.

“Humor is the great thing, the saving thing. The minute it crops up, all our irritations and resentments slip away and a sunny spirit takes their place.”