Cole will portray Mark Twain
at Gen. Butler State Park
CARROLLTON, Ky. (November 2005) Marvin Cole
was the dean of Dekalb College in Atlanta when he rediscovered Mark
Clemens - Mark Twain
They asked me to sit in on a discussion of Huck
Finn, and it was a completely different novel than the Huck
I read when I was 13, he said. Noticing Coles curiosity,
as well as his resemblance to the author, faculty members suggested
that he portray Twain at an upcoming event. One appearance led to another,
and 25 years later, Cole is still performing as Twain. Cole, 73, will
present An Evening With Mark Twain: Tall Tales & Anecdotes
at the Butler-Turpin House at Butler State Resort Park at 6:30 p.m.
on Nov. 12. The dinner theatre performance will include selections from
Twains novels and short stories, as well as personal accounts
taken from his notes and letters.
I have about six hours memorized, Cole said. He plans to
open with the famous fence-painting scene from Tom Sawyer,
then segue into other bits. Cole modifies the program to match his venues,
which range from nursing homes and Elderhostels to elementary schools.
English teachers laugh in different places than accountants,
Cole, who grew up in western North Carolina, retired to his grandfathers
farm in Asheville in 1995. He maintains a schedule of about 40 presentations
each year. These performances have taken him to 20 states, and included
gigs on the Delta Queen, Mississippi Queen and the Belle of Louisville.
These riverboat excursions are special because they allow audiences
to see Twain in a setting that figures heavily in the authors
life and work.
The re-enactor avidly reads new books and articles to better understand
his subject. We keep studying Twain and learning more about him,
he said. Some biographers have not been kind to Twain, painting him
as a miserable pessimist, but Cole disagrees. He was a complex
person, Cole said. It took us 100 years to figure out Huck
Finn. I dont think weve even recognized some of his
other writings yet, like Puddin Head Wilson.
Cole has also visited Twains hometown, Hannibal, Mo., numerous
times, and met with other Twain impersonators. There are at least a
dozen other Twains in the country, Cole said. Every four years, several
of them convene in Elmira, N.Y., where Twain died, to compare notes.
It takes more than research to put on a good show, however. Cole first
recruited a drama major to critique his act, practicing in the college
gymnasium. Today, Cole and wife, Miriam, a retired kindergarten teacher,
are members of the Asheville Storytelling Circle, the North Carolina
Storytelling Guild and the National Storytelling Network. Miriam sometimes
performs with Cole in a 40-minute Twain piece called The Diaries
of Adam and Eve, but the majority of her stories are autobiographical.
The Asheville group holds regular meetings, where storytellers take
turns introducing new tales or refining old material. Fellow members
then offer suggestions for improvement. The couple attends state storytelling
workshops, which Cole said are also popular among comedians, ministers
and district attorneys.
Hal Holbrook, actor and Twain impersonator, has also been an influence
on Cole. Hal is fantastic, he said. When I go see
him now, I know what hes going to say, so I pay more attention
to his delivery. The quality of a performance, Cole explained,
is in the details. Twain was a master of the pause. Ive
tried to achieve that.
People still connect to Twain because hes current,
Cole said. Congress is still lousy, state legislators are still
dishonest, and people still cant get along with their neighbors.
Cole said that audiences enjoy segments that jab at politicians and
school boards, but beyond Twains sarcasm lies a greater significance.
There really is a message that I hope sometimes gets through,
and thats about getting along with each other, and not looking
down on others.
Tickets are $30 and include dinner. Call
Gen. Butler State Resort Park at 1-866-462-8853.
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