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Arts & Entertainment

Val Kilmer becomes Mark Twain in 'Citizen Twain'

Val Kilmer at a rehearsal space somewhere in Santa Monica
Val Kilmer at a rehearsal space somewhere in Santa Monica
John Rabe

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UPDATE: Val Kilmer brings Citizen Twain to the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City June 28 through July 28. Tickets on sale here.

When Val Kilmer does Mark Twain in his one-man show Citizen Twain, there's a good part of the performance in which Twain is a stand-up comedian. Now, I don't know if Twain, for instance, ever asked "Why don't they make mouse-flavored cat food?" But Twain could have just as easily said that as, say, Steven Wright.

Twain, Kilmer says, may have been the first stand-up comedian because he "was the first person who talked the way we do." Kilmer says he used his own voice, unlike the other public speakers of his time, who affected an unnatural cadence and tone. "He told stories like the was in his dressing room, or standing in a bar, or hanging out on a street corner. He smoked all his life, so he just walked onstage with a cigar, and if he was drinking that night, he had a glass of whiskey." 

Val Kilmer, who played Jim Morrison in The Doors, Doc Holliday in Tombstone, Batman in Batman Forever, and Nick Rivers in Top Secret! - brings Citizen Twain to the Valley Performing Arts Center in Northridge April 6.

In Citizen Twain, Kilmer becomes the famous author onstage ...

... and then, after the show, he peels off the makeup and takes questions from the audience.

Kilmer says he's read everything available about Twain and by Twain, and has spoken with many scholars about the man, and the most satisfying thing about Twain is "his love of humanity, specifically Americans. He says why do the Europeans get all the recognition just they've been there (so long). We're great. How we talk is great. It doesn't matter if it's a lowly river rat, or a slave, or Huck Finn himself."

And yes, has consulted with Hal Holbrook, who has been doing Twain onstage for 60 years now.

But isn't Val Kilmer doing Twain, a role Holbrook owns, a little like Gary Oldman playing the role of George Smiley in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, when even John Le Carre acknowledges Alec Guinness was so perfect for the part that his portrayal interfered with subsequent novels?

Kilmer says his portrayal is different from Holbrook's. He avoids content Holbrook uses, and doesn't limit himself to Twain's spoken and written words, as Holbrook does, which allows Kilmer to comment on current events.

Plus, Kilmer's goal is different. He told me he hit on doing Twain when he started looking for a directing project, and came up with Twain's "obsession" with Mary Baker Eddy, the famous Christian Scientist with whom Twain had a complicated relationship. Kilmer says Twain admired Eddy for imagining a benevolent God, but was jealous of her success, and more than a little skeptical of a person who became a millionaire writing about God.

Kilmer plans a movie about the two, but in the meantime, is taking Citizen Twain on the road across America and maybe the world. It's helping him develop the Twain character for the movie, and is -- by the way -- not just a labor of love. Kilmer says the one-man show - which comes to Culver City in June for a month at the Kirk Douglas Theatre -- is doing very well financially.


(Photo: Val Kilmer as Mark Twain in Citizen Twain, courtesy Val Kilmer.)