Mark Twain visited Vermont virtually Saturday, full of the writer’s legendary wit and unique insight into the human condition. Of course, Twain was Broadway and television actor Ron Crawford — but that was totally forgotten 5 minutes into the 55-minute show.
Crawford’s performance, based on the author’s famous traveling lecture series, made it clear why folks around the world paid plenty to hear Twain speak. And it didn’t hurt that Crawford looks just like Twain.
“Tea & Twain,” featuring Crawford’s “Travels with Mark Twain,” is presented by Little Yellow House Studio of Andover. Remaining performances are at 7 p.m. Saturday, and at 4 p.m. Sunday, May 2. Composer and musician Lisa Brigantino, performed original interlude music in appropriate ragtime style.
Crawford is familiar to Vermont audiences for his performances at Dorset Theatre Festival, Vermont Stage in Burlington — where he played Albert Einstein in “Relativity” in 2020 — and Weston Playhouse. His big theater “break” came in the original Tony Award-winning Steppenwolf production of “The Grapes of Wrath” as it progressed from Chicago to London to Broadway and became a TV special on PBS.
Twain — aka Samuel Langhorne Clemens’ (1835-1910) — was perhaps as famous a raconteur as a writer. His lecture series included readings from some of his most beloved works, as did Crawford’s.
The famous fence-whitewashing episode from “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” (1876) came to life as Crawford reminded us of the wily young con artist. But the tale from “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” (1884) began just as humorously as Huck and the escaped slave Jim headed down the Mississippi on a raft. But the story got a lot darker when Jim was captured and Huck turned to God — for perhaps the first time ever.
Without saying anything explicitly, Crawford delivered a fable as poignant today as it was when Twain wrote it.
Still most entertaining and perhaps the most insightful was Crawford’s wry retelling of episodes from “The Diaries of Adam & Eve” (1906). Looking at this Biblical tale from the 19th-20th century logic created a whole new set of lessons.
Crawford included Twain’s adventures as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi, his mining days out West, and his time in the Hawaiian Islands — where, coming upon a bevy of young women swimming in the ocean, Twain sat on their clothes to prevent their being stolen.
All was delivered by Crawford in a wry understated way — perhaps as Twain did.
Saturday’s opening performance had a few slow moments, but the only true criticism of the show was that it was too short!
“Tea & Twain” is the first production of Little Yellow House Studio, a theater education and performance program based in Andover. Created and directed by Susan Haefner, a theater professional familiar for her work at Weston Playhouse and Northern Stage, it has been offering online theater education programs for young people and others since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.