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THEATER REVIEWS : ‘Two’ Doubles Twain Pain

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The program for San Clemente Community Theatre’s “Two by Twain” credits the adaptation to actor David Birney. Birney’s version of Mark Twain’s “Diaries of Adam & Eve,” the larger portion of the evening, and the short “Noah and the Bureaucrat” are known entities.

Before these two, however, there is a silly prelude in which a Master and Mistress of Ceremonies sprinkle Twain epigrams between hesitant vaudeville soft-shoe steps and self-conscious poses.

If this was Birney’s intent, he should have inserted a note in his script that the routine should not be attempted without the experience and savvy to carry it off. Sandy Silver and Malcolm Silver can’t carry it off. Their mistakes, discomfort and bad timing almost make Twain unfunny.

The section may have been the idea of director Nancy Smeets, an attempt to fill out what otherwise would be a rather short program. It succeeds only in making the evening interminable.

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Smeets’ guidance of the rest of the show doesn’t help much. The brief “Noah and the Bureaucrat” has the ark-builder interrupted in his efforts by a red-tape expert, one of Twain’s favorite betes-noir, insisting that the size of the ship, the number of passengers and the length of the voyage require extra crew members, keepers, sleeping quarters, etc.

K. Robert Eaton as Noah and Tess Ragas-Rusin as the Bureaucrat read the lines adequately and get their few chuckles from the one basic joke, but the director doesn’t make any more out of the moment than you’d get from a quick read of the printed page.

Smeets has even less luck with “Adam & Eve,” with static staging and sluggish tempos. Marcia Bonnitz does little more with Eve than recite her lines and hit her marks.

The only worthy performance of the evening is that of Roger Manning as Adam. He has an easy comic sense and creates something of a character to round out his role.

“Adam & Eve” is full of Twainian humor, including his placing Niagara Falls and Buffalo, N.Y., in the Garden of Eden, a back-handed slap typical of the author of such outrageous comic inventions as “Letters From the Earth” and “1601.” Outside of Manning’s stalwart attempt to save the day, both Twain and Birney deserve better.

* “Two by Twain,” Cabrillo Playhouse, 202 Avenida Cabrillo, San Clemente. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Sunday matinee, Sept. 26, 2 p.m. Ends Oct. 2. $10. (714) 492-0465. Running time: 1 hours, 40 minutes.

Roger Manning: Adam

Marcia Bonnitz: Eve

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K. Robert Eaton: Noah

Tess Ragas-Rusin: The Bureaucrat

Sandy Silver: Mistress of Ceremonies

Malcolm Silver: Master of Ceremonies

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A San Clemente Community Theatre production. Adapted by David Birney from Mark Twain’s originals. Directed by Nancy Smeets. Choreography: Bob Murphy. Lights and sound: Ed Howie. Costumes: Chris Warren. Setting: Paul Vogler.


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