Friday again, and I’m not dead yet, though I was having my doubts on Wednesday morning. Nevertheless, I lived to write another Wall Street Journal column, this one about shows in New York (the Broadway revival of Hal Holbrook’s Mark Twain Tonight!) and Washington, D.C. (Arena Stage’s revival of Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie).
In a nutshell:
As an actor, Hal Holbrook has two real-life Marks to his credit, Felt and Twain. In a believe-it-or-not coincidence worthy of Ripley, he has revived “Mark Twain Tonight!” just one week after America’s front pages carried the news that W. Mark Felt was Deep Throat, the Watergate leaker whom Mr. Holbrook portrayed in the 1976 film of “All the President’s Men.” You can’t buy publicity like that–though Mr. Holbrook doesn’t need it anymore. Written in 1954 and last seen on Broadway 28 years ago, “Mark Twain Tonight!” remains to this day the most admired of all one-man biographical shows, and Mr. Holbrook still wears it like a bespoke white suit….
To attempt so demanding a full-evening tour de force is risky business at any age, and I confess to having wondered how well Mr. Holbrook, who is 79, would hold up under the strain. Though he now relies on a wireless microphone, I rejoice to report that he is otherwise better than ever…
We don’t get to see much Eugene O’Neill in New York nowadays, so I jumped at the chance to go to Washington and take in Arena Stage’s revival of “Anna Christie,” a 1920 play that is now best known from the 1930 Hollywood adaptation that was Greta Garbo’s first sound film (“Garbo Talks!” read the posters). While the film is surprisingly faithful to O’Neill’s script, it’s stiff and stagy. Not so Molly Smith’s clean-lined, unmannered production, played out on a skeletal unit set by Bill C. Ray that is transformed before your eyes from a waterfront bar to the deck of a coal barge. Except for a couple of improbably decorous fight scenes, Ms. Smith has done her damnedest to make something true out of this whiskery tale of a whore in search of redemption….
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