Vol. LXI, No. 48
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Underneath the makeup and distinctive clothing, Alan Kitty doesn’t look much like Mark Twain. “We both have more or less square faces and there is a slight hook to both our noses, but his face and his nose are longer and although we are about the same height, I have a more muscular build,” said the actor who will portray the famed American humorist on Thursday, November 29, at 7 p.m. in front of the fireplace on the second floor of the Princeton Public Library.
The Lawrenceville resident, who appeared on television’s Law and Order series during its first four years, will present Twain’s views on 21st-century America as he imagines them in his program, “Mark Twain’s Land Stand.”
The program is geared for an adult audience.
“A lot of what Mark Twain wrote was pretty risky in his own era,” said Mr. Kitty in a telephone interview with Town Topics. “I can do things as Twain that he couldn’t do himself and I can also do things as Twain that I wouldn’t do myself, such as stand-up comedy — I’d be far too self conscious to do this without the mask of Twain.”
But while Mr. Kitty adopts the persona and the look of Twain — even making his own prosthetics to transform himself into the American humorist and author of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer — his performance is not an impersonation. “I’m not doing Hal Holbrook doing Mark Twain,” he said. “I’m doing material that I think Mark Twain would be doing were he alive today. This is the living Twain — there will be no Huck Finn, no Tom Sawyer, and no Connecticut Yankee.”
Besides his own original material, one of the pieces that Mr. Kitty will include in his library presentation is a lesser known work by Twain that is most definitely for an adult audience. “It’s a rather bawdy piece written in the 17th-century style of Shakespeare or Marlowe and though some might consider it pornographic, I include it because it raises questions about morality and acceptable language.
“I am trying to preserve Twain’s core concerns of morality, ethics, and responsibility. Twain was a moralist by accident not by intent. It simply went to the core of who he was. Similarly, it’s not my intent to preach or to teach but one of my motivations for doing this work is to raise questions.”
As an example of a Twain-type tale, Mr. Kitty cites the story of a presidential politician who is accused of having an affair with a young woman, lies about it, and is forced to admit his lies. A contemporary audience will think of Bill Clinton, said Mr. Kitty, but the description also fits Grover Cleveland, so that the story serves to connect politicians and their weaknesses across the centuries.
If Twain were to come back from beyond the grave, Mr. Kitty thinks the writer and social critic might compose a self-help book with the title, Beyond the Tunnel: Not So EasyPass.
Twain’s humorous pronouncements on almost any topic made him one of the most sought-after public speakers of his day. It was once reported that he was likely to make an appearance at the opening of a milk bottle.
Since Mr. Kitty’s first performance as Twain — a culture- and fund-raising effort for the Harristown Development Corporation in Mr. Kitty’s home town of Harrisburg, Pa. — his one-man show has developed so much that he is now assembling a crew of co-writers to work on new material. He integrates classic Twain humor with topical material chosen to fit different venues, whether it be a school program, an after-dinner speech, a dedication ceremony, or a trade-show presentation. His appearances include a principal film role in The Spirit of Giving for the United Way.
Having studied, written, and performed Twain for nearly thirty years, he said that he would like to work on a stage show or put together a series of talks for multiple venues. His admiration for Samuel L. Clemens, who adopted the pen name Mark Twain, was formed in childhood. “By the time I was in middle school, I had read most of his popular works; by the time I was through college, I’d read almost everything by him.”
Mr. Kitty’s acting career began at the age of six, when his first grade teacher asked him to sing a duet of “Sweet and Low” with another boy. “The applause was wonderful,” Mr. Kitty recalled. “I’ve always enjoyed an audience, even though they terrify me as they did Mark Twain early on in his career.” Although he feels the “terror” of a live audience, its the same adrenaline that’s beneath the joy of performing, he said. “You have to be on your toes, to walk that tight rope.”
Unlike Twain who claimed never to take exercise of any kind, Mr. Kitty is an avid rower. He recently completed a 10-day 300-mile row of the Erie Canal from Buffalo to Albany in a two-man racing scull to raise awareness and funding of Cancer and Heart Disease Rehabilitation programs. A member of the Carnegie Lake Rowing Association, he has competed in regattas throughout the U.S. and Canada, including two International Masters championships.
“Mark Twain’s Last Stand” is free and open to the public. Opinions expressed during programming at Princeton Public Library do not necessarily reflect the views of the library, its staff, trustees or supporters.
For more information, call (609) 924-9529 or visit www.princetonlibrary.org.
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