Rumors of Mark Twainâ€™s death have been greatly exaggerated.
Find that hard to believe? Then just head to â€œMark Twain! On Stage,â€ which comes to the James W. Warren Citizens Center on Jan. 27.
â€œHe is alive and well,â€ said Mary Whisonant, publicity chairwoman for the Lincoln County Concert Association. â€œYou will be convinced when you see him.â€
â€œMark Twain! On Stageâ€ promises the viewer an evening of the authorâ€™s biting wit presented by actor and playwright, John Chappell.
The beauty of Twain, says Chappell, is the timelessness of his words. His humor never feels stale.
â€œItâ€™s because there are certain, just basic, human things,â€ said Chappell. â€œâ€˜Human nature doesnâ€™t change very much,â€™ Twain said, and I like that.â€
At the beginning of the performance, a 70-year-old Mark Twain shuffles on stage in his trademark white suit.
It takes hours to perfect the look â€“ Twainâ€™s shock of white hair, bushy mustache and protruding nose.
â€œI paint very carefully to create what I think works for his complexion and glue on bits of hair,â€ he said. â€œIâ€™ve changed the shape of my nose. Itâ€™s distinctive.â€
Chappell has been performing the role for 37 years, and each decade has required less makeup.
â€œAs I have approached his actual age, I donâ€™t have to add 40 years anymore,â€ he said.
The actor was first drawn to the role while watching it performed in college.
â€œI thought it was a great show,â€ he said.
He appreciated Twainâ€™s universal appeal.
â€œTwain has a way of talking about the U.S. war in the Philippines, and I might be doing the show when the Vietnam War is going on, and everybody sees it as connected,â€ he said.
Since college, Chappell has been a working actor performing in theater, radio, film and television. During the â€™70s and â€™80s he had parts in â€œHawaii Five-O,â€ â€œCharlieâ€™s Angels,â€ â€œMatlockâ€ and the movie â€œTenâ€ among many others.
He has now retired from show-biz and returned to his small North Carolina hometown where he works as a reporter.
It was in this town that he first discovered Twain while at home sick with the mumps.
â€œI had read all of my Hardy Boys books and all of the Nancy Drew books in the house,â€ he said. â€œAnd there wasnâ€™t anything else to read except for the classic books you get at Christmas, the books you never ever want to read.â€
After picking up â€œTom Sawyer,â€ however, Chappell was hooked. His appreciation for Twain deepened in college.
â€œI started to realize that these books are funny,â€ he said. â€œI hadnâ€™t noticed that when I was 12 â€“ it was an adventure, and everything seemed perfectly reasonable to me.â€
He names â€œHuckleberry Finnâ€ as his favorite.
â€œIt has to be everybodyâ€™s favorite,â€ he said. â€œThere is something in it that is just so essentially America. Itâ€™s our racial friendship and divide, both. Itâ€™s our understanding of what it is to be male or female.â€
Although Chappell has been occasionally inhabiting the body of Twain for nearly 40 years, he never gets sick of the role.
Twainâ€™s work is full of meanings, Chappell said, and the art of acting involves the constant decision making of how to present these meanings.
â€œI keep finding new choices,â€ he said.
â€œMark Twain! On Stageâ€ comes to Lincolnton Jan. 27 at the Citizens Center. The performance begins at 7:30 p.m. and tickets are $15 for adults and $5 for students. For more information call 704-732-9055.by Sarah Grano