Sunday, June 01, 2008

Pudd'nhead Wilson

Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example. - Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar

Mark Twain wrote four books featuring the Mississippi River and based in part on his home town of Hannibal, Missouri. Among these is what some consider the greatest American novel, Huckleberry Finn; also Tom Sawyer and Life on the Mississippi; but the last and least read of the four is a comic gem, Pudd'nhead Wilson. Twain was always fascinated by themes of twin hood and exchanged identity. Earlier in his career he wrote a fantasy, The Prince and the Pauper, that was a favorite of mine in my youth and explores the theme of exchanged identity. But in 1894, twelve years after that novel and ten years after Huckleberry Finn, he returned to the Mississippi with publication of The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson and the Comedy of Those Extraordinary Twins. The book was published at a low point in his personal and business life as he succumbed to personal bankruptcy upon his return from a trip to Paris in that year having previously suffered a bout with pneumonia (in 1892) while his family was also ailing. The comic inspiration of Pudd'nhead Wilson betrays none of these travails but adds to the reputation of Twain the great American humorist.

Last night I enjoyed a dramatic adaptation of this novel produced by City Lit Theater. Terry McCabe and Brian Pastor, the Artistic and Managing Directors, respectively, of City Lit adapted the novel for the stage and Terry McCabe directed it. The performance was engaging especially in conveying the humor and wit of Twain's novel. I particularly enjoyed the Italian twins, played by Dan Howard and Craig J. Newman, who demonstrated timing and ability to create humorous moments that for brief moments literally 'stole the show'. The difficult central roles of Wilson and Tom (Kingsley Day and Ehren Fournier, respectively) were also handled extremely well. Overall it was a delightful evening of theater buoyed by the wit of Mark Twain and the production of City Lit Theater.

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