This year is the 50th year that actor Hal Holbrook has been doing a one-man stage show as Missouri’s greatest author. In 1954, Hal Holbrook began doing “Mark Twain Tonight” in a small New York nightclub. He’s still doing it, still looking for new Twain material he can integrate into the show, especially Twain comments that can be applied to contemporary issues. Holbrook says he never tries to update Twain’s thoughts — never tries to say what he thinks Twain would say if he were alive today. He resists taking partisan positions with Twain’s words. But he does want people to think about issues and events.
Holbrook says he never wants to fall into the “sick trap” of thinking he is just like Twain. He is an actor, he reminds us, someone who is sometimes surprised that one person can keep an audience totally engaged for two hours by mining what he says is Twain’s enormous wealth of commentary on the human condition. The goal of the show, he says, is to make people pause and think—quoting Twain–when you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to reflect.
Holbrook performs Sunday at Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg; in Columbia next Wednesday night, and then in Lawrence Kansas on the 20th. Bob Priddy has talked with him about the legacy he brings to life.