Photo by Lisa Brenner
A limited run of Val Kilmer's one-man-play, "Citizen Twain," comes to an end Wednesday, leaving audiences to wonder a while about hair glue, racial slurs, mouth sounds and the curiosity of Churchillian drift.
Kilmer's Masonic Lodge series at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery was designed for feedback, and a post-show Q & A included a viewing of the actor becoming unglued, literally, as he was taken out of hair and makeup.
But even with the public unmasking, the show itself remained a mystery. Kilmer clearly knows more about Twain than we do, yet he chose not to share it in the dialogue, waiting instead to create a compelling character portrait after the main event spectacle.
With a perplexing storyline, stand-up comedy awkwardness, lo-fi imagery and jarring contemporary references, the teleprompter-guided Twainfest did just about everything thinkable to hide the actual show from the audience.
Also, there were multiple, inexplicable hollerings of "Mark Twain!! Whooooo!" from the star during the performance.
Repeatedly, the inner question was, "Why this?" Kilmer's project — born of, or possibly for, screenplay pages — is a well researched and understood entity. It just seemed like in the editing process he accidentally highlighted all the stuff he meant to delete.
Putting aside the jumping around stage while acting out all the roles in extended book passages, and shelving for a moment the debate over historical parlance authenticity vs. N-word bombs being dropped like acid in the '60s, and even with the understanding that Hal Holbrook "FIRST"ed decades of Twain material, an absurdly likeable show could still exist under all the shouting.
However, the brashly constructed dialect was unrelenting in its ability to be offputting. Despite the intentionality, it was an unpleasant contrast to the warm tone of the actor's natural speaking voice.
Had it been possible to integrate the honey purr into the body of a show that let loose some lesser known life details, there may have been no choice but to find $60 for another night's performance.
Enjoyable for some of the wrong reasons and peculiar for some of the right ones, the play has a unclear message that finishes with the feeling of not being sure how to feel. Surely there's a Mark Twain quote for that.
Lisa Brenner can be reached via Twitter @lisa_brenner