Few actors own a role the way Hal Holbrook owns Mark Twain. The Tony- and Emmy-winning actor, who recently turned 87, has played the humorist in his one-man stage play “Mark Twain Tonight!” since 1954, logging thousands of performances and many more miles traveling with the show.
But longevity doesn't necessarily guarantee that you have an exclusive monopoly on a part. A relative newbie to the Twain game, Val Kilmer recently launched his own one-man play, “Citizen Twain,” running in a workshop production at the Masonic Lodge at the Hollywood Forever cemetery through Wednesday.
Kilmer said in an interview that the play is a warm-up for a movie he wants to make about the contentious relationship between Twain and Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science. (Kilmer is a lifelong member of the Church of Christ, Scientist.) In the play, Kilmer plays Twain as a ghostly apparition who returns from the dead. The words he speaks are a mix of Kilmer's own jokey, surreal writing — “Welcome to the Batman Forever Cemetery,” he says by way of introduction — and selections from Twain's essays, articles and novels. The actor also performs a song or two.
“It's not a plot-driven play,” Kilmer explained in a recent interview in Santa Monica. “Twain himself sometimes wrote as if from the great beyond. It's really a character study.”