Theater Review: Kurt Sutton’s depiction of Mark Twain at Pec extraordinary

By Edith McCauley
Theater Critic

Continuing their series, “A Personal Look at Events That Built America,” Pec Playhouse Theatre in Pecatonica, Ill., brings to the stage the extraordinary Kurt Sutton, whose depiction of Mark Twain provides the audience with an authentic portrayal of this humorist and philosopher. Sutton’s background as a professor of history at the University of Georgia motivated him to research extensively the life and literature of Samuel Clemens.

Clemens, the outspoken writer, began his career as a Mississippi River steamboat pilot. Embracing a long-held dream since his childhood, he assumed the name Mark Twain based on the term used to measure the depth of the river. It is by this name most people recognize his work. Act I of Sutton’s performance details Clemens’ life and his career as a writer, his travels in the West, and his later years in Hartford.

Act II focuses on the characters he developed in his two most famous works, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Speaking in the first person, Sutton verifies the real-life people whom he knew as a child and how they became so memorable in Clemens’ books.

Every detail of Sutton’s performance is perfect. His tousled gray hair (his own), the bushy eyebrows and mustache, and the uncertainty in movement show us how we change with age. Often forgetful, his stories leap from one subject to another, but it is this that brings the most laughter from his audience. Speaking with him following his performance, it is easy to see how his background in history provides him with such marvelous material.

Cordelia Harvey convinced President Abraham Lincoln of the merits of providing hospitals for wounded veterans returning home from the Civil War. Her influence is responsible for the facilities that exist today. At 3 and 7 p.m., Friday, Nov. 11, she is the next speaker in this series, and Friday, March 9, at 7 p.m., we will hear Mary Todd Lincoln.

This entire program is designed by Pam Barkdoll and Laura Keys, both long-time members of the company. They are to be congratulated for their creative and innovative idea.

Christmas arrives with Christmas Belles, opening Nov. 18. Call (815) 239-1210 for tickets. The cast assures me it is “a hoot.”

From the Nov. 9-15, 2011, issue

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