Monday, September 19, 2011

Jacques Lamarre Stirs Up Trouble on Mark Twain, the Playwright

Mark Twain is best known for creating the novels that changed the face of American literature. 
What few know is that Twain also tried his hand at playwriting - repeatedly - though his efforts to become America's William Shakespeare fell, well, a bit flat.

On Wednesday, Oct. 5,  Jacques Lamarre -- an accomplished playwright, screenwriter and Hartford personality who happens to be the museum's communications manager -- explores the author's little-known stage productions.

Broadway producer Mitchell Maxwell, author of the new theater novel "Little Did I Know," also has a cameo in the early-evening event.

The lecture is the third in The Mark Twain House & Museum's popular, free, after-work lecture series, The Trouble Begins at 5:30.

The free event begins at 5 with wine, coffee supplied by The Friends of the Mark Twain House & Museum, and hot hors d'oeuvres supplied courtesy of Hot Tomato's restaurant in Hartford. The lecture -- and the trouble -- begin at 5:30 pm.

During his lifetime, Twain enjoyed one great stage success, the comic melodrama Colonel Sellers. It toured for 12 years and made more money than "The Gilded Age," the novel on which it was based.

This was despite initial reviews such as this one from The New York World: "We see and feel that it is good work straggling and floundering after effects, whereas the effects would grow sequentially and easily out of a good plot."

In 2003, scholar Shelley Fisher Fishkin dusted off Twain's long-forgotten, never-produced comedy Is He Dead?, which subsequently debuted on Broadway in 2007, more than a century after it was written.

Of course, visitors to the Mark Twain House hear the tale of his performing "The Prince and the Pauper" in the library, with his daughters and their friends as fellow actors and wife Livy as dramatist and stage manager.

He later described his performance to a New York audience: "I did it as well as a person could who never remembered his part. The children all knew their parts. They did not mind if I did not know mine. ...The words of my part I could supply on the spot."

Lamarre has written the comedy Gray Matters (2010 Midtown International Theater Festival nominee for Outstanding Playwriting), Stool (Top Ten finalist for the NY 15 Minute Play Festival), and the upcoming Jacques Lamarre Has Gone Too Far (November/December at New Britain's Hole in the Wall Theater). He has co-written eight comedy cabaret pieces for drag performer Varla Jean Merman, as well as her feature film "Varla Jean & The Mushroomheads." As an arts marketer, he has worked for Yale Repertory Theatre and Hartford Stage, both Tony Award-winning theatre companies.

Producer and director Maxwell, who will briefly present his new novel "Little Did I Know," is the winner of multiple awards and has been associated with such productions as Harvey Fierstein's Torch Song Trilogy and David Mamet's Oleanna. He describes "Little Did I Know" as "a novel in the roman a clef tradition that brings to life the glory days of summer stock."

October 12, the series concludes with Mark Twain in a Corset. The house and museum at 351 Farmington Ave. are open Monday through Saturday, 9:30 am to 5:30 pm, and Sunday, noon to 5:30.  For more information, call 860-247-0998 or visit www.marktwainhouse.org.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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