Pasadena has the good fortune to be the landing spot for Parson’s Nose Theater, specifically in the beautiful Marston and Van Pelt 1911 building that was once a mortuary chapel. Located near City Hall on the corner of Marengo Avenue and Holly Street, it boasts a lovely courtyard, open ceilings and stain glass windows; inviting and intimate, it lends itself perfectly for what Parson’s Nose aims to do.
Mark Twain and Friends: A River Journey is an enthralling journey down the Mississippi River that captivates the imagination. Full of biting wit, folksy storytelling and colorful characters, Greg White’s original play creates a visceral experience of Twain’s youth where you almost feel the dampness coming off the river putting you on that raft with Jim and Huck.
Twain, played with gruff charm by veteran actor Paul Perri, speaks directly to the audience as he reminisces about the quirky and ultimately important people he knew and eventually brought to life in his writing. White skillfully weaves all of these people and stories together, having Twain pop in and out offering commentary and moving the narrative along. We meet the runaway slave, Jim, played with gusto and tenderness by the fantastic Louis Baker, as he embarks on an adventure down river on a raft with Huck Finn, a clear-eyed and spunky Heather Taylor. Their scenes are full of fun, excitement and ultimately newfound understanding.
When James Calvert and Lance Davis jump on board as the “Duke” and “King” respectively, the hilarity just doesn’t quit. These two fine actors work beautifully together with the strong presence of Calvert doing his best conman impression of royalty to the absolute comic genius and rapidfire delivery of Davis.
It’s a dream cast, several of whom play multiple roles, from the vivid portrayals of Jill Rogosheske to the always delightful Barry Gordon, who also sings and plays guitar along with Davis on banjo. Strong performances all the way around from John Harnagel as the crusty riverboat pilot Mr. Bixby, Stuart Orloff as Sam, a young and scrappy Mark Twain, and writer Greg White making an appearance as legendary storyteller, Blaine.
Gary Lamb’s taut direction gives the adventure great momentum while pausing for emotional moments that seem to stop time. Michael Mullen’s costumes evoke the period superbly, none more so than the divine gown worn by Rogosheske and the production design wonderfully recreates the banks of the Mississippi. The result is an evocative and poignant look at how the people we encounter in our lives shape who we become and the affection we feel for them endures.
I am not a fan of the intermission however I must say that PNT is the only theatre that I get excited about intermission due to their tradition of creating a theatrical experience that is decidedly communal. The audience, a more descriptive word would be guests, are invited to the bar as they arrive, during intermission and after the show to dialogue with one another, mingle with the cast members (afterwards) and enjoy libations along with Pat Bell’s famous oatmeal orange cookies and other home baked delights. What Parson’s Nose has created is something very special and unique and this production, in particular, brings everything they do so well into sharp focus making for a truly memorable experience.
Parson’s Nose Theater presents Mark Twain and Friends: A River Journey. October 20 – November 18, 2018. Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm.
Parson’s Nose Theater is located at 95 N. Marengo Ave., Pasadena, CA 91101
Parson’s Nose Theater presents Mark Twain and Friends: A River Journey as the first major production of its 2018-19 Season. Season Subscriptions are available through November 18. Single Ticket prices are $35 for Adults, $25 for Seniors, $20 for Students. Reservations online at www.parsonsnose.com or by calling 626-403-7667. Preview Performance is “Pay What You Will.” Ages 10+.