Val Kilmer is Mark Twain at the Clay

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FILM | ANDREA CHASE

The last generation or two thinks of Hal Holbrook when it comes to one-man shows about Mark Twain. Not to take anything away from Holbrook’s dry wit and perfect timing when performing Twain’s words, but Val Kilmer with Citizen Twain makes a compelling argument to join him as another master interpreter of those words. He will be presenting the piece one night only in San Francisco, December 22, at the Clay Theatre on Fillmore Street.

In Kilmer’s telling, the voice is deeper than Holbrook’s, the performance more physical, but the delivery is just as spot on. Kilmer is also more sardonic, yet finds an almost self-deprecating way with Twain’s take on humanity, making it clear that he doesn’t spare himself when passing judgment. He brings a contemporary vibe to Twain’s reminiscence about a particularly sadistic schoolteacher he enjoyed taunting, despite the teacher’s liberal use of corporal punishment, his still prescient take on politics and his unabashed love of adulation.

Distilling a lifetime of Twain’s splendid writings into a 90-minute piece cannot be easy, but Kilmer — who wrote and directed the play now filmed from a live performance for cinematic presentation — has made choices that are equally splendid, leaving viewers tickled and wanting more.

“Citizen Twain” is a thoroughly engaging reminder of why Twain is still a pleasure to revisit for both his biting satire and his uncanny insight about what makes people tick.

Instead of a general release, Kilmer is presenting his film one city at a time, hosting the screenings he calls Cinema Twain, and making himself available for a Q&A with the audience. More information about the December 22 screening at the Clay here.

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