HANNIBAL – Local actors Richard Garey and Clark A. Cruikshank do not know if Sam Clemens and Charles Dickens ever met in person.
But they hope the two famous authors did, because despite a 23-year age difference, Clemens was a fan of Dickens' books. “We can't prove it,” Garey said. “I know Sam Clemens was a huge fan. He read and reread Dickens' books.”
Cruikshank added, “We wish they had spoken. We were struck by how much the two had in common.”
Garey will portray Clemens and Cruikshank will be Dickens in “On the Seventh Day of Christmas,” a new play the two have written.
The play will be a one-time meeting of the two authors on New Year's Eve in 1867, when Clemens was age 32 and Dickens, 55. “During this play, the two will ring in the new year,” Garey said.
Clemens took his future wife, Olivia, on their first date to see a Dickens play in New York, Garey said.
The play will make its debut at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 13, at the Bluff City Theater, 212 Broadway, where it will begin at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays until the end of December. The final show will be at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 31.
With performances during Hannibal's bicentennial celebration and also during the Victorian Christmas events in downtown Hannibal, Garey said, the play “falls into both of these really well.
“Sam Clemens has made Hannibal what it is today. Also, by writing 'A Christmas Carol,' Dickens made celebrating Christmas popular, which was not done back in the 1840s and 1850s.”
Garey explained that by 1867 Dickens had written his main books and was presenting readings from them in Boston and New York. “He was a sensation. He was a rock star. And then Sam Clemens became a rock star later.”
“Sam Clemens had written no books,” by 1867, Garey said. He was just becoming known and was most famous for his jumping frog story. “He had done some stage speaking before this day, and he's gearing up to do the east coast. I'm recreating his actual shows on stage, doing them the way he did them. That's in the play.”
Both actors will be using actual quotes by Clemens and Dickens. “I want this to be theatrical but conversational,” Cruikshank said.
Although Cruikshank and Garey wrote it together, writing the play was Garey's idea. “I had been doing Christmas shows since 2015 in Hannibal. I felt that I just about exhausted my audience for 'A Shepherd's Tale.' Both of us are interested in theater in Hannibal and wanted to do something fresh and new.”
Cruikshank noted that Garey, “set something down in a couple of days,” after “We talked about topics we wanted to do.”
Garey explained, “That's my forte. I can knock it out. In the play we want it to be their only meeting.”
“I came up with a list of things we wanted to talk about,” Cruikshank said. “We use a lot of actual quotes.”
Cruikshank noted that the audience “will get a flavor of Dickens and Sam Clemens at that age. Sam gets more sophisticated in his dialogue” as he grows older. “The more serious Dickens took himself, the funnier he was. Both liked to poke holes in people (who were too fond of themselves). Dickens encouraged Sam to write about the truth.”
Garey added that as book authors, both Dickens and Clemens “created monumental characters.”
Although this will be the first time they have appeared on stage together, Cruikshank said, “Both of us have been doing this a long time, Richard for 40 years on stage and myself since age 15, for a total of 100 years.”
Both actors are looking forward to performing together. “I think Clark is a pure actor,” Garey said. “He enjoys the artistic process and enjoys sharing with the audience. I just want to be on stage. Both of us have been extremely lucky to be able to do that.”
The play is being produced by Heritage Stage and Studio 57 Productions, an organization Cruikshank and his wife, Maria, have been in for several years. She has been a stage manager for 25 years. Garey also is involved in this organization.
Play tickets are available at Garey's Planters Barn Theater by calling 573-231-0021 or on heritagestage.com.