“Mark Twain: Patriot, Teacher, Philosopher” presented by the Saint Sebastian Players
In all honesty, I’m attached to the Saint Sebastian Players. My husband has appeared in several of their shows and is in tight with the group. Like, so tight, there might be photos of my son in the program for “Mark Twain: Patriot, Teacher, Philosopher.” I’m just saying.
SSP are a lovely group of friendly people who produce and perform live theatre in the basement of St. Bonaventure church in Chicago. They’ve been at it for a while – this is their 31st season – and they’re just good people who truly love doing theatre, and do it quite well. It’s church basement theatre, so you won’t be seeing any Sarah Kane angst or X-rated action, but if that’s your thing – it’s Chicago, I’m sure forty other groups can assist you.
“Mark Twain: Patriot, Teacher, Philosopher” is another success for the group. John Oster has compiled some of Twain’s lesser-known works into a sweet two-hour showcase of the talent of the legendary writer, as well as the talent of the assembled cast under the direction of Stephen F. Murray.
Using the framing device of Twain’s “The Diary of Adam and Eve,” Oster weaves five of Twains short pieces with some live folk music, and the whole thing comes off as a comfy, folky good time. Right out of the gate, Kelsi Karch’s Eve is likable and endearing, and she and her Adam (Dylan Parkes) serve as our guides for the evening – it begins and ends with them, as they portray the beginning of man and woman in the Garden of Eden through their old age, when Eve has died and Adam is left alone to remember her. Heads up, the final scene of the Adam & Eve arc is a complete heartbreaker. (You’re familiar with their sons, right?)
However, most of the show will have you chuckling. In one piece, Mark Twain himself (played by an affable Brian Hurst) runs for governor only to find himself surrounded by reporters for all sorts of salacious (and perhaps true) reasons. In “A Telephonic Conversation,” Laura Stephenson is an absolute stitch as a wife on the phone having a long-winded, bizarre conversation while her husband (Eric Prahl) looks on. There’s also “The French Duel,” which has two Frenchmen and their seconds preparing very seriously for a duel that is anything but serious. Murray keeps everything skipping along, and the whole cast seems to be putting their all into their roles.
Between all these pieces, a merry band of cast members appears and plays folk songs – “Down by the Riverside,” “Simple Gifts,” and “I’ll Fly Away,” among others. At intermission, it’s a jam session, and the audience at the opening performance was loving it.
Fans of Twain should head to this show, as should fans of theatre with a heart. It’s a charming, down-home time, and a nice way to spend a couple hours.