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Hilton Obenzinger <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 19 Jun 2006 10:47:49 -0700
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Camy and All,

I don't doubt you had a horrible experience, but you should know that
people have had other experiences.  I saw Hal on Broadway 40 years
ago and 4 years ago, and both times he was delightful, inspiring --
and easy to hear.  It sounds, from your description, that there must
have been some terrible problem with the acoustics in the hall or the
sound system.  Or Hal was terribly ill and should not have performed
at all -- and since he is very meticulous about his performances,
that would have been an unfortunate misjudgment.  In any case, if the
audience was irritated by the acoustics, I'm sure that he was too --
it's not as if he wouldn't be able to tell -- and I'm sure that would
have thrown him into a funk.  I have twice invited him to lecture at
my university and to meet students and community members, and he was
informative and gracious, a real easygoing person to be with.  I
don't know about his response to touching, except that I do know that
it takes him hours to put on his make up and additional hours to take
it off, and it's painful.  He often meets people after performances
in costume and make up (which accounts for why students are perplexed
to see me in a photo standing next to Mark Twain).  However, given
the situation, I can understand him being terribly irritated.  Also,
even though Hal is no Brad Pitt in terms of celebrity hoo-hah, he
does get strange encounters with people.  If you've ever been with
people like movie actors who inspire crazy responses (I once had
Patrick Stewart lecture, and though we tried to keep it mum, there
were a few odd squeals and several students so rattled they drove
their bikes into walls), you can imagine the fear of looniness that
many actors develop, perhaps excessive.  In any case, this does not
eliminate the badness of your experience -- or the amount of dough
you laid out -- but it could perhaps bring you a different
perspective.  I would suggest listening to the video of his 1967
Hallmark TV performance -- the audio should be clear.  He received
his standing ovation the night you attended because he has done so
much to keep Twain in people's hearts, even if that night was a
bomb.  He keeps a journal of every performance, and each one is
different, none precisely the same, the material always at least
slightly different, and his evaluations as accurate as he can make
it.  I'd like to see his notes on that one.