Dear Forum members, Vicki and I had the opportunity last night to see
"Colonel Sellers" performed at Hannibal LaGrange College here in
Hannibal. The production was based on script #160 of the Mark Twain
Project and edited by Jerry Thomason. This script contains Twain's
notes from New York rehearsals in Twain's hands, according to Thomason's
playbill notes. Thomason evidently also consulted script 160a at the
MTP, and a manuscript in the Library of Congress dated July 1874 as well
as a later typescript. The play was last performed in Boston in 1888.
I found the play historically fascinating. It was certainly
melodramatic. Apparently it was written before Twain developed his
social conscience on race. His character Uncle Dan'l was a mere
caricature. Dan'l was frightened by a steamboat and served the purpose
of comic relief in the play.
I was highly amused that Twain used the actual names Laura Hawkins
and Uncle Dan'l in the play. For years now works of fiction have
carried disclaimers about there being no relation between characters and
living persons. If Twain were to name characters after real people
today, they and their lawyers would pounce in a heartbeat. Evidently
Laura and Dan Quarles were flattered (or a cause of action didn't exist
-- I'm not doing the legal research unless someone out there wants to
The play had the land, of course, a secret marriage, a fallen woman,
a murder, a hilariously inaccurate trial, and a happy ending. It would
not be a successful play today. Tastes and styles have changed. But as
a historical piece and as a look at Twain as playwright, it was very
Dr. Thomason did not clean up any of the language. He stated in his
playbill, "My primary goal in all my work has been to remain true to the
material that I am convinced is original to Twain." The play was
presented as written -- complete with the dreaded "n-word." There was a
sensitive explanation of this and other language in the playbill.
The production is being performed through this Saturday. Dr.
Thomason is to be applauded for resurrecting a real piece of Twainian