Monday, August 1, 2011

Playwright David Ryan Polgar turns Twain into a Ladies Man for R-RATED TWAIN

Late in 2011, actor Michael Eck approached The Mark Twain House & Museum with a script for a short play by his friend, David Ryan Polgar.  We found the comedy, Mark Twain: Ladies Man, funny, but at 10 minutes in duration, a little difficult to build into a full event.  Fortunately, we were already planning an evening of R-RATED TWAIN with Sea Tea Improv in January and Polgar's play was a perfect fit.  When performed in City Steam's Brew Ha Ha Comedy Club, Mark Twain: Ladies Man brought the house down (as did the rest of Twain's smuttiest material).  Because of popular demand, we are re-presenting R-RATED TWAIN on Friday, August 6th and Saturday, August 7th at 8 p.m. at the Hole in the Wall Theatre in New Britain.  As Mark Twain: Ladies Man is back on the bill, we asked the West Hartford native to share the genesis of the play.

The Making of Mark Twain: Ladies Manby David Ryan Polgar

I started writing Mark Twain: Ladies Man for a Connecticut-themed short play contest. When I think of Connecticut, he’s the first thing that comes to mind. If Maine has lobsters and Massachusetts has clam chowder, our residents have a taste for Twain.

After deciding that he would be my “Connecticut theme,” I came up with a title. Truthfully, I love to work backwards. It’s like the new movie Cowboys & Aliens—it’s a novel idea that throws you for a loop. Mark Twain as a lothario just seemed to jump out at me. Maybe it was his wit (which the ladies love), or perhaps it was his mustache. He seemed much cooler than Tom Selleck, and women fawned over him in the 80s. Next I started to imagine scenarios where the author was brought back to life and hanging out in a bar. What would he be like?

That’s the idea I played with and expanded on. What if Twain were brought back to life for the sole purpose of helping men pick up women? Would he be a good wingman or a conniving rascal? To keep the material grounded in some semblance of truth, I decided it would be fun to have every utterance of Twain be words he actually said. It’s remarkable how current Twain sounds. Twisted the right way, he can be both snarky and poetic. Of course, the quotes are taken completely out of context. This is by no means a PBS special; it’s more like a trip down the rabbit hole.

After showing an early version of the script to Jacques Lamarre and Julia Pistell at the Mark Twain House & Museum, I received a great deal constructive feedback that I used to polish up the play. For example, some of the quotes I had used turned out to be misattributed to Twain. In addition, Jacques and Julia helped me clarify how exactly Mark Twain would be wind up in a bar. Instead of spending twenty pages discussing cryogenics (and besides, a lot of times they just freeze your head), I went less sci-fi and more absurdist—he can be rented online. Take that, Craigslist.

I always like to learn something with everything I watch. So do most people, I figure. We have armchair lawyers and detectives watching Law & Order and CSI. People like small bits of knowledge delivered in a non-academic way. While the Twain in Ladies Man is a complete caricature, you do leave with a great taste of his wit. I hope that besides laughing, people also get the urge to dig deeper into Twain’s life and writings (with his recent autobiography, there is plenty to dig). It certainly made me appreciate him more.

R-RATED TWAIN, an "adults only" evening of Twain at his most ribald, is Friday, August 5th and Saturday, August 6th at 8 p.m. at the Hole in the Wall Theater, 116 Main Street, downtown New Britain.  Tickets are $15 and can be purchased by calling (860) 229-3049 or at the door.

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