Talking Twain with Val Kilmer
What made Mark Twain the quintessential American writer? Partly it was that he embodied so many things American, and often these were contradictory. He stopped his formal education at twelve and thereafter was self-educated, yet he became a darling of the east coast intelligentsia. He was the boy from Hannibal who savaged the greedy, yet money was extremely important to him and he spent much of his life in pursuit of it, and lived a lifestyle in Hartford indistinguishable from that of Gilded Age millionaires. He was friends with former slaves, and with the likes of the utopian intellectual William Dean Howells. He was a champion of Americans, but spent many years abroad in an “everlasting exile.” He even served in the Confederate Army (for two weeks), though one of his heroes was General Grant. There are countless paradoxes in Twain, and they lay at the heart of Val Kilmer’s one-man play “Citizen Twain.”
Kilmer portraits Samuel Clemens near the end of his life, while he was traveling the U.S. and the world (including England, India, Hawaii, South Africa, Australia and Fiji) giving solo talks to recoup money to pay off debts incurred through investments, particularly in new inventions such as the Paige typesetting machine, on which Twain spent today’s equivalent of eight million dollars.
Kilmer, known for his cinematic portrayals of Jim Morrison, Doc Holliday, and Batman, is both star and writer for Citizen Twain, but he is also director and producer. He’s developed the play over the past ten years, with intense concentration on it during the last three years. Now he continues to develop it, on its way to Broadway one day, June 28 – July 14, at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City.
“It’s a unique experiment,” says Kilmer. “We’re developing “Citizen Twain” without the benefit of a home theater, which is a challenge, so we’re going to where the audiences are. Mark Twain traveled the world sharing his love of America and humanity, and part of discovering Twain is to do that with this show.”
Twain’s laughter was always very close to his sorrow, and while he was uproariously funny his humor often stung, as he moved from love to money, from God to racism, from politics to watermelons and cats. Twain was all things American, the good, the bad, the conflicted.
Use the players above to listen to an excerpt from Citizen Twain and hear Kilmer talking about the show. In the video below: a bit of Kilmer as Twain that's not in the solo show, Kilmer delivering Twain's 70th birthday speech.