Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Long and Winding Road to Florida Stage's Next Show

The upcoming Florida Stage production of A Murder, A Mystery, & A Marriage is based on a Mark Twain Story of the same name. But this is no Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer.

This story was originally a gimmick that Twain pitched to his longtime friend, William Dean Howells, editor of The Atlantic Monthly. Twain would write a bare-bones plot but wouldn't write an ending. In his "blindfold novelette" concept, other writers would create their own endings for the story. He hoped to get contributions from noted authors like Henry James, Bret Harte, and William Dean Howells (a noted writer of the day). These endings would be published in The Atlantic Monthly.

"If we could ring in one or two towering names beside your own,we wouldn't have to beg the lesser fry very hard."
- Mark Twain, in a letter to William Dean Howells.
This was an idea that had never been tried before. Now, of course, there have been several similar collaborations; South Florida's own Miami Herald produced Naked Came The Manatee, which featured Carl Hiaasen, Elmore Leonard, James W. Hall, Edna Buchanan, Les Standiford, Paul Levine, Brian Antoni, Tananarive Due, John Dufresne, Vicki Hendricks, Carolina Hospital, and Evelyn Mayerson. But Twain was there first.

Well, almost. Unfortunately, no one else wanted to collaborate on the project.
"I see where the trouble lies. The various authors dislike trotting in procession behind me." - Mark Twain, in a letter to William Dean Howells..
Twain wrote his own version of the story in two days. He hesitated in showing it to Howells, and even noted that it was ""Not Original. God said the same of another Creation." He did tell Howells that his wife liked it. "'Good;' pretty strong language - for her."

He didn't give up his idea; he tried peddling it to other magazines, and even tried tinkering with the basic structure. But after his death in 1910, it remained largely forgotten. It wound up in the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center in Austin, Texas. Patrick E. Martin, a lawyer who represents the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, (which owns the manuscript to "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,") heard about the forgotten story in the mid 1990's. He acquired the rights to publish the novelette "the way Twain wanted, as a contest." The Atlantic, appropriately, got the first rights to run the serial. The magazine finally published it in June of 2001, one hundred and twenty five years after Twain first proposed it.

The serial caught the imaginations of Aaron Posner and James Sugg. While a melodrama can make for a challenged read, it lends itself perfectly to the musical theatre form. Their musical has received the kind of praise that the story it is based on never did.

Their musical adaptation was first produced at Maryland's Round House Theatre, a production that garnered reave reviews and a nomination for the Charles McArthur Award for Outstanding Play or Musical. It had a similar reception at the Delaware Theatre Company in Wilmington, Delaware, where it was nominated for a Barrymore Award.

A Murder, A Mystery, & A Marraige runs December 7 through January 13 at Florida Stage. 282 South Ocean Blvd, Manalapan, FL, 33462 561-585-3433, 800-514-3837

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