Mark Twain and the Laughing River | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Mark Twain and the Laughing River 

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Veteran folk-pop singer-songwriter Jim Post ("Reach Out in the Darkness") is no actor, but he's a wonderful vocalist and tale teller--and nearly a dead ringer for Mark Twain. So this delightful family-oriented entertainment, smoothly directed by Brian Russell, is a natural: impersonating Twain in late middle age, Post matches the great writer's anecdotes about growing up in Missouri with original songs extolling the mystique of the Mississippi. The tunes, belted out in Post's clarion country-gospel tenor, are catchy and charming (though one wishes Jenny Armstrong and Luke Nelson, who accompany Post's acoustic guitar on banjo, fiddle, accordion, and bass, were more prominent). The hilarious, insightful stories and aphorisms convey Twain's amusement at the foibles of human nature, including his own boyish propensity for outrageous pranks and attraction to whatever was forbidden; here we meet the real-life models for Huck Finn, the slave Jim, and Becky Thatcher and learn about Twain's early experiences as journalist and steamboat pilot. Post's mischievous, slightly show-offy foxy-grandpa persona is irresistible, especially when he interacts with the audience, inviting youngsters to touch the very finger that once touched the scarred scalp of the real Injun Joe or leading a stirring sing-along of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." Stephen R. White's river-wharf set (complete with a long-handled pump), B. Emil Boulos's evocative lighting, and Dawn DeWitt's folksy costumes create a perfect sense of time and place: this Northlight Theatre presentation offers a thoroughly engaging introduction to the life of America's poet laureate of childhood. Northwestern University Theatre and Interpretation Center, Josephine Louis Theatre, 1979 South Campus Dr., Evanston, 847-869-7278. Through March 17: Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 5 and 8:30 PM; Sundays, 3 and 7 PM. Then March 20 through 24: Wednesday-Friday, 8 PM; Saturday, 5 and 8:30 PM; Sunday, 3 PM. $20-$30.

--Albert Williams

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Fraher.

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