Hollywood Fringe 2016
Ed Goodman reprises his Mark Twain visits for solo show.
One -man shows about Mark Twain are almost a genre of their own but this is a welcome addition to the stable. Ed Goodman’s Mark Twain was one of Edgar Allen Poe’s guests in last year’s Fringe hit “The Poe Show” and this might be considered his spin-off.
Before the show audience members are invited to write questions for Mark Twain on cards, they can also write anonymous “Truths”. These are placed in two buckets onstage, and Goodman, as Twain, reads from the cards and riffs fluently and appropriately, while weaving in some well-researched biographical detail. But this show goes well beyond keeping the promise of its premise.
Confident use of the audience continues throughout the show, leading to some meta complications about breaking the rules of one-man shows. There is a dis-arming self-awareness underlying the whole performance, we are enjoying watching a man who is enjoying pretending to be Mark Twain.
The characterization is drawn with broad comedic strokes (wig, cigar and misbehaving false mustache all present and correct) but somehow the spirit of Twain rings true in flashes of righteous anger between the punchlines. Whether shooting the breeze from his rocking-chair, defiantly confronting an imaginary adversary, or admonishing a real late-comer, the mask never slips any more than is comically useful.
Goodman is an improv veteran and playfully surfs the wave that he and the audience create together. There are obviously-prepared set-pieces which he can steer into, complete with lighting and sound-effects, but the show retains its spontaneous and organic feel. If a joke falls flat, don’t worry, there’ll be another along one in five seconds. The relentlessness of the delivery achieves a charm of its own. There are also some very good pre-recorded commercials that punctuate the action, giving Goodman the opportunity to regroup.
When the “Truth” bucket is reached into, the show attains an unexpected gravity and reveals itself to be an incredibly well-constructed journey as Twain removes layers of deception that he wore in life. The performance I saw also produced some particularly shocking and serious “Truths” from the audience.
The show ultimately asks us to question what we are told by the powers-that-be, whether that means the bible, or the media, or history books.
Unobtrusively directed by Jeremy Aldridge, who makes good use of the space and limited tech. “Mr. Mark Twain Answers all your Questions” is a thought-provoking and funny 50 minutes well-spent in good company.