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When the performance begins, Graves, who plays Twain, washes away all sense of kitsch with the humble growl of his old voice. Watching him recite Twain’s writings is akin to listening to an old man tell war stories. His humor is cynical, his wit acute and his logic keen. At one point he calls himself a 'dead lion' and to Klasfeld's credit, the contrast between his intellectual strength and physical weakness is contrasted wonderfully in the staging. Graves recites fragments of Twain's lecture material atop a raised pedestal up near the audience and retreats upstage for personal reflection, often plopping down in a chair where the backlighting creates a halo of fine white hairs on top of his head.
Twain was fairly radical for his day, especially on issues concerning slavery, religion and colonialism. Though delivered in the context of Twain's life, much of the text of the play resonates with today's audiences. From his bold attacks on the cruelty of imperial countries to his cynical reflections on everyday life, his speeches have a certain timeless, universal bent. The play presents a Twain who questions everything, every social construct, every convention. Like a modern day Socrates, his logic often pushes the limits of abstraction and he is censored for his views. Klasfeld did not create this character, nor compose the majority of the words he speaks, but his seamless synthesis of the material and the version of Twain promoted by his script is both compelling and extremely likable.
At times, however, Klasfeld's direction falls short of Graves' talent. Many of Graves' movements around the limited stage seem purposeless and voice recordings of newspaper bulletins and such are delivered without attempt at a more turn-of-the-last-century cadence. After a time, the whole awkward introduction seems like a bad memory until, at intermission, the pirate music returns. These inconsistent elements create rifts in the authenticity of the play and its setting, jarring the audience awake from fantasy, until Graves can lull them back into his imaginary world.
While it's fun to feel the rocking of the water and a view the open horizon behind the action onstage, the outdoor setting invites some unwelcome interruptions as well. The pier is host to a number of events, one being the party on a garish boat that blasted Kanye as it drifted by during our performance. Another time, a loud plane wailed overhead. Graves never missed a beat: "There's a giant albatross!" he said as the plane flew by, and somehow, coming from him it wasn't corny at all.