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Making his mark as Twain

Val Kilmer has perfected a Missouri drawl and done his research on a man few people have ever really heard.

November 14, 2013|By Michael Miller
  • Val Kilmer performs in his one-man show "Citizen Twain" at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City on July 3.
Val Kilmer performs in his one-man show "Citizen… (Allen J. Schaben,…)

Although Mark Twain's literary voice has implanted itself in the American consciousness, there's no known recording of him speaking. Nevertheless, the "Huckleberry Finn" author came on the phone Monday afternoon to rave about his upcoming gig in Laguna Beach.

"Oh, I'm lookin' fah-ward to the waters and enjoying the sunshine and the clean beaches," Twain said, his slow Missouri drawl feeling its way around each syllable. "I noticed when I was down theah yesterday that you're not allowed to take any objects from the beach. And it seems like it's a very healthful community. They say that livin' in California adds 10 years to your life. Isn't that wonderful? I think I'll spend them in New Yorrrrrrk."

How close it was to the real man, we may never know, but Val Kilmer, whose "Citizen Twain" will stop by the Laguna Playhouse next week, thinks he has a good idea. So at the end of a half-hour interview, when challenged to answer a question in character ("How do you feel about coming to Laguna Beach for the first time, Mr. Twain?"), Kilmer was happy to oblige.

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Not that evoking Twain poses much of a challenge by now. In the past few years, Kilmer has brought his one-man show to the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, the Pasadena Playhouse and elsewhere, and he's learned the character well enough to take detours from the script. At Laguna, he plans to pull out audience members for impromptu interviews and mingle in the lobby before the show.

"He's just so full of love, Mark Twain," Kilmer said in his real voice, which, at least Monday, sounded like a slow, contemplative drawl of its own. "And so original."

"Citizen Twain," which centers on Twain's intellectual rivalry with Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy, was a late addition to the playhouse's fall schedule. Less than four months ago, Kilmer presented the play in workshop form at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, talking to the audience as he had his makeup removed and soliciting their thoughts on the play.

Even now, Kilmer considers "Citizen Twain" technically a work in progress — and it's only part of a long journey he's taken with the subject. A decade ago, he wrote a screenplay about Twain and Eddy, which has yet to be produced. In the meantime, he crafted the stage show to further understand the character from an actor's perspective.

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