Review: John Chappell Appears 'Impeccable as Twain's White Suit'
Opening night of Temple Theatre's production of John Chappell's one-man show, "Mark Twain On Stage," proved the point that Twain was a "humorist who was really funny."
Chappell proved to be an actor who can really act. With his immaculate white suit, snappy patent leather shoes, and deliberately slow delivery, the audience learned to listen carefully. From the onset, you just didn't want to miss a single line in the packed house.
He made it look easy, but clearly it took skill and practice to perfect the sharp timing. We followed the irony in his one-liners, savoring the longer stories too, detecting Chappell's subtle facial expressions (especially the eyes), body language, and gestures. Moving props in silly ways amused us between quips.
People were really enjoying him, anticipating some stories with whispers, "Oh, this one's good." One woman giggled so much we turned our heads in her direction a couple of times, only to laugh again at the infectious nature of good live comedy. Clearly people have seen him perform this before and loved it again.
Who cannot relate to an old storyteller spinning his yarns? His simple, everyday material is a common denominator to everyone, whether he claims, "Nevada looks like a singed cat" or "There is nothing that needs reforming more than other people's habits."
The basic motherlode of material comes from the subjects of politicians, religion, and cultural hypocrisy. Did I say lying? Perhaps that goes without saying in those three categories. More than a few references were made to the joy of bad habits, as Twain/Chappell waves his ubiquitous (thankfully unlit) cigar.
Chappell creates such a successful depiction of Twain that you feel like you are meeting him in real life -- just what a successful artistic production should do and just what a satisfied audience appreciated that night. Everyone should see a Mark Twain show, and if you haven't seen one, see Chappell. For 40 years, he has given us a reminder of this great man, whose wit and honesty almost embody the personality of our country.
We probably would have loved more stories from Huckleberry Finn or another famous book. However, the one told was priceless. It concerned Huck's moral dilemma as to whether he should turn in Jim, his friend on the lam from the slave owner. Huck makes the right choice in the end, but we are privy to a poignant lesson in the vulgarity of racism. Chappell again scores with the audience as he pulls off the serious side of Twain. Huck's line at the end of that reading goes, "Ain't no home like a raft, after all."
As he said at the champagne toast afterward, "Well, I certainly had a good writer," to the bemusement of all. How true. But Twain had a good actor to share his superb material. That was a winning combination. No contemporary television show can beat the humor of Mark Twain on stage -- delivered as impeccably as the white suit and shoes.
The production runs through March 16. The theater is located at 120 Carthage Street, Sanford.
Call (919) 774-4155 for information.
Contact freelance writer Darlind Davis at email@example.com.
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