The people attending Richard Garey's “Mark Twain Himself” performances will never witness the same stage show.
“I don't do the same thing every show,” Garey explained. “I have eight hours' performance material. I decided in the beginning I would only perform his material.”
Fitting Twain’s quotes to the audience works well, he said. “It makes it fresher for me, and I'm able to fit the audience's mood. All audiences have personalities. Audiences give all kinds of signals of what's happening.”
“Most of my people are tourists,” he said. “I love it when local people come. They enjoy it.”
Performances begin at 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays at his Planters Barn Theater at 310 N. Main St. in Hannibal. For details call 573-231-0021.
This year’s program includes more Hannibal history in honor of the bicentennial, he said.
“There were big events that were important to Hannibal history,” such as the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and the Lewis and Clark Expedition from May 1804 to September 1806, he said.
“Hannibal was a steamboat town, and Sam Clemens is right in the middle of it,” Garey said. “It was a trading center in its early days. All transportation and supplies were in the river. Hannibal had a wood supply and built steamboats. They ordered boilers from Pittsburgh, Penn.”
Noting that Clemens' life parallels the growth of the United States, Garey said, “When Sam Clemens was a boy here, there were veterans who had fought with George Washington. In 1840 Hannibal still had people around who had gone through that period of time. He had that experience. It is wonderful to watch his growth and development. His father was a slave holder, and he (Sam) saw things he questioned. Sam Clemens left Hannibal at [age] 17 and never lived here again.
“I play him in the 1890s when he's still in Hartford. And he had his family. I go up to 1893. There are really two Mark Twains: up to when his daughter died and after that.”
Despite his heartbreak, Twain never had writer's block, Garey said.
“When Sam Clemens wrote Huck Finn, he established himself as a world author, a great author,” Garey said. “What makes me sad is that more and more his Huck Finn book is being taken out of schools. In the show, we talk about that. When the Huck Finn book was burned, Twain said, 'I treat that like a badge. You are not much of a writer if your book hasn't been burned.'”
Garey wants people to realize that Clemens was an extremely smart man. “He spoke German, French and Italian, and was self-taught,” he said. “This shows how smart he was. He knew scientists. He was probably the last man who knew all the movers and shakers, and kings and queens.”
Clemens used humor to express clever perspectives of major contemporary issues. “He was a very clever about how he put it together,” he said. “He is our most quoted American writer. Shakespeare is the most quoted English writer.”
In addition to his theater shows, Garey offers a walking event through town. “In summer, it is best in the evening. It is cooler and has a better atmosphere. It's a show on the move in Hannibal. I tell Hannibal stories in Mark Twain's words.”
Garey is not only an actor. He has written a book of 123 poems, “Hannibal at the Door,” about people who lived in Hannibal. It is illustrated by his wife, Pat, a watercolor artist. It is available at his theater.