Voice From the Past

Re-enactor Caplinger
brings to life author Mark Twain

The one-man show is both challenging,
rewarding for actor

(May 2013) – Gary Caplinger’s look back at one of the most famous writers in America’s history has allowed him to move forward in his love of the stage. Caplinger, 64, first discovered his passion for the stage in high school and followed up on those early experiences with a theater minor in college and an active involvement with community theater as an actor and director. Health issues, however, recently kept him off stage for nearly 10 years.

Gary Caplinger

Photo provided

Gary Caplinger of Lawrenceburg, Ind., portrays his favorite author, Mark Twain, in his traveling shows titled, “An Evening With Mark Twain.” He will bring the show to the First Christian Church in downtown Madison, Ind., on May 10-11.

About two years ago, Caplinger, of Lawrenceburg, Ind., began work on the show that would put him back in front of the crowds. Reading over the works of Mark Twain got Caplinger to thinking that the famous author’s words would make for great theater.
“I’ve always enjoyed his writings. I just love his humor so much,” Caplinger said.
The writer who has inspired conversations, laughter and controversy for well over 100 years inspired Caplinger to try and bring him to life onstage.
While Twain may be most known for his books, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” the prolific writer produced scores of articles, speeches and short stories. Something of an insomniac, Caplinger filled many late nights pouring over the words of the writer who has been called America’s first stand up comedian. “I find all this stuff interesting.”
Caplinger says of the challenge of whittling down Twain’s witty observations to a two-act performance. The resulting show portrays Twain in his 70s looking back over his life and at the world around him. While assembling the show, Caplinger depended on his wife, friends and director Don Frimming to act “as a sounding board” to help him focus on the aspects of Twain’s thoughts and words that would appeal best to the entire audience.
“It’s been fun doing this,” he says. “I’ve enjoyed the process of putting it all together.”
“An Evening With Mark Twain” will take place May 10-11 at the Madison First Christian Church, 512 W. Main St., in Madison, Ind. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. and the performance will begin at 7 p.m. with refreshments available at intermission. Admission is free, with seating on a first come, first serve basis. Donations will be gratefully accepted.
Bob Hartsaw, a member of the church outreach committee, said the event was organized to allow visitors to enjoy Madison in Bloom during the afternoon and then finish out the evening with one of America’s best loved humorists.
“We thought it would be good for the community,” says Hartsaw, adding that the church members hope to offer additional community events in the future.
Church volunteer and outreach committee member Karen Hicks explains that while the church has played host to musical events in the past and traditionally serves meals during Chautauqua, the Twain program is a new way of connecting with Madison residents. “I think it allows us to let the community know who we are. We have wonderful people here, wonderful facilities.”
Hicks continued, saying, “Church life is different than when I grew up. It was one of the social outlets for a family as well as the spiritual aspect. I hope the community will feel welcome.”
While the show will certainly be a must-see for longtime enthusiasts of the author, organizers highlight that one need not be an established Twain fan to enjoy the show. Although Hicks read Twain as a child, she said she is no expert on the author and sees the upcoming performance as a way to get to know Twain a little better.
“I think you get to an age where you still want to keep learning,” she said.
Hartsaw caught one of Caplinger’s performances last year and began thinking that his show would be a good fit for the Madison area. He was impressed with the show and was amazed at just how much Caplinger “looks like Twain.”
Yet it takes more than a simple physical resemblance for Caplinger to bring the famous writer and thinker to life onstage. Caplinger spent more than a year researching the life and works of Twain in order to compile his production. Using the letters, books and essays of the beloved and sometimes controversial writer, Caplinger captures the essence of this enduring American favorite.
“I’ve been involved in community theater most of my adult life. I’ve had some really good lead parts in shows but never anything like this.”
As a one-man show, the performance has challenges and rewards different from his ensemble theater experiences. Being alone he has control over the timing in ways that is not possible when onstage with others. He describes the performance as “pretty demanding.” But he adds, “I think the most enjoyable thing is feeding off the audience.”
Twain’s power as a public speaker gave the actor a fascinating, if somewhat challenging basis to draw from. “He never did a speech where he didn’t plan out every word, every pause. Everything was thought through. He was an unbelievable speaker.” 
Twain’s talent for sharing his opinions has made him something of a lightening rod even to this day. “He was a very outspoken person,” says Caplinger, “He had something to say about everything.”
While Twain was someone reporters could always count on for a witty quote, Caplinger was intrigued at the number of sayings incorrectly attributed to him. He was also interested in the fact that “a lot of people had the misconception that he was a racist or that he hated women.” He says that his show will touch on some of the mistaken legends that have been attached to Twain over the years.
Caplinger reflects on the experience of acting, saying, “I’m just someone else when I’m onstage.”
In compiling the show, Caplinger has made it his priority to stick to things Twain actually wrote or said. “It’s his words, not mine.”
While a few lines have been added to allow for a seamless flow to the performance, Caplinger stresses that “I’m certainly not going to put words in Twain’s own mouth.”

• For more information on the Twain show, call the church office at (812) 265-3945.

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