Richard Garey as Mark Twain
Richard Garey as Mark Twain

An Afternoon with Mark Twain

We know him as Mark Twain. Richard Garey calls him “Sam.” Garey is an actor working mostly out of his Planter’s Barn Theatre in Hannibal, Missouri, the home of the young Samuel Clemens, who became known internationally as Mark Twain. Garey has played the author around the world and offers a thoroughly researched interpretation of Twain. His performances are re-creations of the legendary writer’s speaking tours, and they are “all in his words,” Garey affirms. When the Hannibal actor brings Missouri’s most-renowned native son to CAM, he is Sam from the moment he enters the museum until he exits onto Washington Boulevard. During audience Q&A, he speaks as Sam Clemens, except when he doesn’t know what Sam would say, “and then I don’t say anything.” 

For RE: Living History, the words Garey does know include Twain’s angry, caustic response to the US takeover of the Philippines in 1901. Twain was the vice president of the Anti-Imperialist League, which rose in protest against American expansion into Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. Garey tells me the argument over the United States’s status as a world power was much like today’s—an argument Teddy Roosevelt won and Mark Twain lost.

To the Person Sitting in Darkness, Stephanie Syjuco’s courtyard installation, is inspired by Twain’s words: “And as for a flag for the Philippine Province, it is easily managed. We can have a special one—our States do it: we can have our usual flag, with the white stripes painted black and the stars replaced by the skull and cross-bones.” CAM is the first place where that flag has waved.

Garey brings to CAM the Mark Twain people have rarely known: the fierce anti-imperialist who speaks his words with bitter irony. But, Garey reminds me, some historians have designated Twain the first stand-up comic—he made part of his livelihood by going from theater to theater and making audiences laugh. As bracing as the subject matter may be, Garey follows one of Sam’s guiding aphorisms: “The greatest curse is ignorance, and its only cure is humor.” 

Richard Garey plays Mark Twain at CAM, Saturday, December 7, at 1:00 pm. Free. Register here.

Support for RE: Living History is provided by Missouri Humanities as part of their commitment to a more thoughtful, informed, and civil society.

Eddie Silva