Who says Los Angeles doesn't know culture? For two days this weekend, the seminal theatrical event of our generation will rock the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles. The heavens will open, angels will sing, and sad children will learn to smile. To my legions of California faithful, attendence is mandatory.
Val Kilmer is doing a one man show. That he wrote and directed. About Mark Twain. This is simply the kind of thing that doesn't happen in New York. Normally I'm proud to live in a city where we don't let film actors do whatever they want—Ethan Hawke's forthcoming appearance in Ivanov notwithstanding—but today that's a shame. This could be a catastrophe along the lines of Anthony Hopkins' forgotten masterwork Slipstream, a cosmic mishmash which he wrote, directed, starred in and produced, and which I only know about because I interviewed him for it.
(Sample bit of Hopkins-madness: "I'm interested when I watch a movie that just off camera there's lights and microphones and crew and trucks and craft services and John Wayne's out there fighting the bad guys. And at the end somebody says 'that's a wrap everyone' and they all go their different ways, and that's the end of our lives. That's it. And then the whole thing runs backwards because it's all a joke." Best interview I'll ever do.)
Citizen Twain, which was workshopped earlier this year at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, is the culmination of seven years of work by the actor best known for Tombstone, gaining weight in his face, and being hellishly difficult to work with. My father once told me that Kilmer had years of trouble getting work because he once used a stagehand's cheek to extinguish a cigarette, and the story got around. Note to aspiring Hollywood weirdos: don't commit assault on set.
And are those the kinds of hilarious, folksy anecdotes we can expect from Kilmer's turn in the white Colonel Sanders suit? Presumably! From Playbill:
Citizen Twain is characterized as an exploration of "the famed author's wry humor, his successes and tragedies of his later life, which included bankruptcy, and a soul-searching feud with Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy."
Expanding our idea of Twain beyond the crotchety epigram-spouter of legend is a fine idea. Ditching the white suit might help. Dwelling on a forgotten feud with the founder of Val Kilmer's religion might not. Assuming this show will eventually be booked for a ten year Broadway run, I have already mailed Mr. Kilmer $250.
Of course, I haven't seen the play, and there is no way it's as bad as I'm imagining. The play promised by that press release is so perfect, right down to the title, that it's hard to imagine it's not a punchline in some Hollywood meta-comedy about actorly pet projects. As far as the staging, I'm picturing something like Kelsey Grammer's improvised Lincoln monologue, a brilliant 30 Rock moment for which I can find no evidence but this photo.
But according to critics who saw the April workshop, Kilmer disappears fully into the role, doing his best Hal Holbrook under nineteen pounds of uncomfortable face make-up, which he had removed during the Q&A that followed the performance. Hal Holbrook is revered for his five decade portrayal of Twain, and perhaps this show could also be Kilmer's ticket to immortality. As far as Mark Twain Tonight, however, my mother and I saw it when I was a child, and were so bored that we left at intermission. Folksy only goes so far.
Although the newspaper critics declined to give specifics, the pointedly funny McSweeney's contributor Sarah Walker was in the audience, and gave an unfettered report of the weirdness. It's worth reading for insights into the evening's weirdness and Val Kilmer's views on race, but I'm gonna steal the highlight for you now:
When he’s telling the story of Tom Sawyer white washing the fence he refers to the smell of blossoms in the air, and someone came up behind us and sprayed a can of air freshener. It was like we were THERE.
I'll post actual reviews when they come in. Because I've had so much early morning fun at the Serious Actor's expense, I'm sure he'll exceed all our expectations and more—acting so well that my house fills up with popcorn until it explodes. Until then, let's revisit the good times: