Theater: Twain Focus of One-Man Stage Show
Samuel Clemens never met a new-fangled technology he didn't like. Under the pseudonym Mark Twain he became the highest paid writer of his era. He invested -- and lost -- fortunes in new typesetting technology that consumed vast quantities of money without ever actually producing anything.
Whenever his fortunes were reversed and he needed to dig out from debts, he would take to the lecture circuit.
Although best known as an author, Mark Twain was a preeminent lecturer, touring the United States and Europe, playing to sold-out audiences, dispensing his humorous and frequently cynical wisdom on the human race.
In 1975, disc jockey and high-school track coach McAvoy Layne found himself snowbound in a cabin for five days at Lake Tahoe. On the coffee table was a copy of "The Complete Essays of Mark Twain."
"Those were the luckiest five days of my life," says Layne. "When I walked out of that cabin I was heading in a new direction."
Taking his cue from other Twain-impersonators such as Hal Holbrook, Layne began developing his own Twain. He immersed himself in Twain's writings, practiced in front of mirrors, journeyed to the places Twain frequented, and assembled his trademark white ice cream suit. His first performances were in schools, and soon he was speaking at libraries and service club luncheons. Within a few years he was playing Mark Twain on a full-time basis.
McAvoy Layne is quick to point out that he is not an actor.
"I only do Twain," he says. "I'm never Stanley Kowalski or Hamlet or Superman."
Instead Layne considers himself a self-taught scholar, impersonator, and professor of Twain.
"I don't believe you choose to go into this line of work, you really need a tap on the shoulder," he says.
Layne commits to presenting all aspects of Mark Twain, both the social critic as well as the humorist. He says that Twain still connects with today's audiences.
"Twain's insight in human nature and our foibles is timeless and holds up beautifully with today's audience," he says. "The more sophisticated the audience, the higher Twain's humor flies."
In recent years, Layne has been very busy with schools in response to attempts to ban "Huckleberry Finn" from library shelves (the first such bans were attempted over 100 years ago).
He tours "The Trial Of Mark Twain" all over the country, defending Twain from charges of racism.
"Compare me to Malcolm X," he says. "As a boy he was a black racist. I was a white racist in my youth. But over the course of my life I changed my ideas, just as Malcolm X changed his. 'Huckleberry Finn' reflects these changed understandings, and it is not a racist book."
Layne has performed his one-man stage show about the "Wild Humorist Of The Pacific Slope" over two thousand times. He plays "The Ghost Of Mark Twain" on the A&E biography of Twain and in the Cronkite Award-winning documentary, "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." He is author of the biography, "Hooked On Twain."
When asked about what Samuel Clemens and Mark Twain would think about today's technology, Layne replies: "Twain would not be a blogger, but would stick to after-dinner speaking where he could share a wineskin with some of society's most respected blatherskites, and yes, he would have lost a fortune in the dotcom bubble burst, and would be digging out yet."
Moore OnStage will present McAvoy Layne in "The Ghost of Mark Twain" for one performance only on Tuesday, Feb. 6, at 7:30 p.m. at The Sunrise Theater in downtown Southern Pines.
Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students.
Advance tickets may be obtained by calling 255-0667.
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