by Ellen Wilson Dilks

Ambler’s Act II Playhouse offers a witty antidote to those January blues: a solo piece written and performed by Tom Teti: MARK TWAIN UNPLUGGED. Directed by Artistic Director Tony Braithwaite, the play will be onstage at the company’s Butler Avenue venue through February 8.

Born Samuel Clemens in 1835, Twain became a much loved author and humorist. He had a varied career prior to becoming a writer, including a stint as a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi. It was from this part of his life that he drew his most famous pen name. “Mark Twain” was called out by the riverboat pilots to let the captain know they were in waters at least two fathoms deep—thereby ensuring safe passage.

Twain’s first story to reach national popularity was “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” which was written while he was working as a miner in California. Over the course of his long life, he became a friend of such varied people as artists, politicians and European royalty. He was lauded as the “greatest American humorist of his age”, and William Faulkner called Twain “the father of American literature.” Twain was born shortly after a visit by Halley’s Comet, and he predicted that he would “go out with it”, too. He died at aged 74 on April 21, 1910—the day following the comet’s subsequent return.

Tom Teti stars in his one-man show, MARK TWAIN UNPLUGGED, now through Feb. 8 at Act II Playhouse in Ambler. (Photo credit: John Flak)

Clearly, Teti has researched the man well, and fully captures the charm and dry humor Twain was known for during his many public speaking engagements. In addition to delivering many of Twain’s witticisms with great panache, he gives wonderful readings of a couple of passages from his best-known works. With just Twain’s trademark white suit, Teti deftly brings Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, Old Jim and others to life. It is a rare performer who can hold an audience’s attention alone for 70 minutes or so; Teti is one of the few I know. He interacts with the audience with great ease, adapting to whatever comes in the moment quickly. Braithwaite has paced Teti’s performance perfectly—and has given him Sonny Leo as an onstage accompanist and foil.

MARK TWAIN UNPLUGGED’s action plays out on Maura Roche’s bi-level set, which has just the right amount of “Rustic Americana.” James Leitner creates solid lighting to enhance the mood and John Stovicek adds clever sound effects that help punctuate Twain’s tales beautifully. Avista Custom Theatrical Services have supplied great era-appropriate props and Stage Manager Pat Sabato keeps everything running smoothly.

My companion and I enjoyed ourselves immensely. I highly recommend that you make the drive to Ambler and spend some time with this much-loved author. MARK TWAIN UNPLUGGED is well worth the trip.

Written & performed by Tom Teti
Directed by Tony Braithwaite
January 20—February 8, 2015
Act II Playhouse
56 E. Butler Avenue
Ambler, PA 19002

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