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Barbara Schmidt <[log in to unmask]>
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 27 Feb 2004 12:14:53 -0600
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I am forwarding this response to the Forum from Terry Oggel at his request.



Thanks, Jim, and Barb--

I'm glad to know about it and to have heard it. It goes back to '91, Jim
says, but I didn't know of it till now.

It captivated me, and I had a fairly strong reaction to it. So if I may
presume, and without Barb's approval, here's my unsolicited mini-review of
it. If such presumptuousness annoys you, then delete forthwith.

It's an interesting project. Curiously, the webpage credits "Samuel L.
Clemens," not "Mark Twain," as the author. It's a bad start.

There's not much Willie, and much is the loss. His vocal narrative about a
boy, Jimmy, who grows up only to be sent to war, where he learns to kill
and then is killed himself, is done in the familiar Willie Nelson style,
perhaps a little more of a near-recitative than usual, as much spoken as
sung. It frames and contextualizes the reading of Twain's verbal narrative.

In the body of the performance, Twain's dramatic tale is read but as
ineffectively and weakly as one could dread to hear. Five voices, both male
and female, participate. Stilted, wooden and with little comprehension,
they merely go through the motions of reciting Twain's colorful and nuanced
words. The voices alternate, and so divide the piece into perspectives--an
effective idea--but only one voice has enough vibrancy and color to begin
to give resonance to Twain's words and their meaning. The readers seem
frightened of Twain's words, too intimated by his short drama and its
compelling theme to dare to use their voices as instruments to interpret it.

Following the performance, an appropriately undramatized voice delivers a
thumbnail sketch of some of the historical context surrounding the writing
of the piece. Here "Mark Twain" is named as the author. Because it is so
unexpected, one wonders where the idea for this came from--it's the
equivalent to a scholarly footnote. One wonders, too, who wrote it, and one
wishes the producers had consulted Jim, to get at least that part right.
The idea itself and the sort of information in it bespeak pretensions to
scholarly authority. But as Jim points out, much of the information is
wrong. So, a disappointment here, too. I'm glad it's there--who would
expect it to be there?  But why wasn't it done well either?

It's clear that there was a studied effort to do this respectfully and
effectively, but both the performance and its footnote fail to rise to the
level of Twain's rhetoric and theme. They cry out for expert oral

As the self-appointed, ad hoc audio reviewer for the Forum, I give the
project two stars out of five.

Terry Oggel