HANNIBAL — Muddy River Radio Theatre will present their humorous performance of “HUCK” at 6 p.m. Saturday and at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Sunday, bringing a unique “live radio” atmosphere to the historic Planters Barn Theater at 319 N. Main. St.
Clark Cruikshank, who plays the Duke and several other roles in the hourlong performance, said the group performed once for the public in November 2016, with other showings taking place on riverboats with American Cruise Lines and the American Queen Company. He looks forward to performing at Planters Barn Theater, which was constructed in 1849 to serve as the livery stable for the Planters Hotel, which once stood in the parking lot facing Main St.
“It’s a really nice venue for this,” Cruikshank said. “It kind of has that ‘Old West’ feel to it.”
Richard and Pat Garey own the venue, and Cruikshank was delighted that the stage was remodeled with an overhead beam replacing a column that once bisected the stage. He said Richard Garey performs his one-man show, “Mark Twain Himself” in the venue.
Cruikshank reached out to Melissa Cummins, Tom and Becky coordinator, to see if past members of the program would like to join the performance. Past Tom Sawyers Michael Hark and Kason Bonvillian will perform during the Sunday matinee showing.
‘They’re doing a really great job, and we’re really happy to have them, too,” he said. “It’s sort of a further reach out to the community to cast them in the show.”
Cruikshank said several members of the cast play multiple roles, and he relishes how actors change their hat, voice or physical posture to signify a different character. He noted this was the style for radio broadcasts, and the performers will be telling jokes and doing radio ads as audience members come in.
“We’re going to try to make it feel as much like a radio broadcast as we can. Some people are confused when we say it’s a live radio play, because they expect that they are going to tune in on the radio and hear us. But we’re just doing it as if it were a radio broadcast,” he said, noting costumes reflect the time period and the character.
The ads and jokes set the tone as audience members arrive, encouraging them to laugh, cry and boo the villain if they would like.
“We want to get the audience involved in it, because the big difference between experiencing a television show or a movie and experiencing a live theater piece, is that feed of energy between the performers and the audience. And to a great extent, that makes every performance unique, because if an audience just sits there and doesn’t react, then the cast is not going to have a lot to react to and build upon,” Cruikshank said. “But when we can get the audience the audience involved and laughing and crying and shouting out and singing along, then it’s a much, much richer experience theater-wise.”
Jim Waddell, Mark Twain interpreter for the Mark Twain Museum, approached Cruikshank during the 2015 presentation of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Waddell and Jack Moore said they would like to see more of the performances. Waddell found a one-hour version performed by Orson Welles on his radio program in the 1940s. They started with that program, and Cruikshank returned to Twain’s novel to make the focus mostly about Huck and Jim — “and their journey not only on the raft, but as two men who recognized each other’s humanity after they spend that time on the raft.”
Jim has wonderful stories to share, Cruikshank said, and there are many instances of Tom being a “know-it-all” without always knowing what he’s talking about. There are several funny moments of Jim or Huck shooting down something Tom said.
Cruikshank said Pap Finn is “a bit scary,” but he noted how Twain’s comedic approach presents some tough issues in a more palatable way. And he said it’s important to share the messages from the novel, noting how Twain’s work is being removed from some library shelves.
Cruikshank noted how he enjoys assembling a local group of actors and musicians, so audience members can see their friends, neighbors and co-workers demonstrating their skills on stage.
The cast includes Bob Yapp as Mark Twain, Jim Dewey as the King, Caleb Brookshier and Bonvillian as Tom, Jordan Hosmer and Hark as Huck and W.T. Johnson as Jim. Live music in the vein of the time period will be performed by Rob Ahrens and Dale McUmber-House.
Tickets for “HUCK” are available for $20 ($10 for students, teachers and librarians). Tickets can be reserved by calling the Planters Barn at 573-231-0021, visiting heritagestage.com/huck or by coming to the door a half-hour before the performance.