Mark Twain Returns to the Hill City
“How is it possible for a man who died in 1910 to be standing here in front of us in 2004?” The question is frequently asked, and the man in the white linen suit usually scratches his forehead a moment, wondering indeed how such a feat can happen, and then he answers with, “It was actually Samuel L. Clemens who died in 1910. Mark Twain continues to live in the hearts and minds of generations who first encountered the famous American author and humorist in grade school when they read about the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.”
Richard R. Salassi brings the man to life again in two performances of his one-man show, A Visit with Mark Twain, appearing at the Parkside Playhouse on May 17 and 18.
Salassi, a Vicksburg native who currently makes his home in Texas, has been touring his show for eight years, delighting audiences across the south with Twain’s irreverent wit and wisdom. His ninety-minute presentation reveals “Twain’s study of the unchanging quality of human nature then, now, and no doubt in the future.”
“Sam Clemens was a keen observer of the human condition in his day, but it was Twain who put those observations into words,” Salassi said recently in an interview. “And no doubt Clemens continues to observe the human condition today. Whether he’s gazing down on the human race, or enviously looking up at it, we cannot say.”
“Sam Clemens stopped in Vicksburg many times during the late 1850’s when he was a pilot on various steamboats plying the Mississippi,” Salassi said. “However, he visited for an extended stay of several days in the spring of 1882, as Mark Twain, when he was gathering notes for his book, Life on the Mississippi.”
Critics and historians have noted Salassi’s striking resemblance to Samuel Clemens, hailing his performance as one that realistically captures Twain’s manner: his speech, his delivery, and his timing.
Born in Vicksburg in 1942, Salassi attended H.V. Cooper High School, graduating in 1960. After graduating from the University of Southern Mississippi in 1964, he spent time in San Francisco and Los Angeles where he worked in both films and television. His varied career included teaching school locally for many years, beginning in Redwood, then Jefferson Jr. High, and finally at St. Aloysius High School. He moved to Texas in 1996 and has been touring as Twain ever since. A Visit with Mark Twain began with an appearance at the Parkside Playhouse in Vicksburg in 1996. Returning there this spring, notes Salassi, “is a joy I am looking forward to. I hope to see a number of old friends during this return visit...folks I haven’t seen in years!”
Salassi has appeared in a number of plays, movies, and television shows. His credits include The Music Man, South Pacific, The Gin Game, The Fantasticks, The Royal Family, Noises Off, Visiting Mr. Green, Mary,Mary, Under a Cowboy Moon, Hamlet, The Taming of the Shrew, As You Like It, The Merchant of Venice, The Imaginary Invalid, There Should Be Roses (winning a Best Actor award for his role as Lester), Run for Your Life, and Big River, where he first appeared as Mark Twain, and many others. Salassi appeared on screen in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and In the Mood. His television credits include Our House, Valerie’s Family, and Shelley Duvall’s Tall Tales. Vicksburg Audiences may remember him in the role of “Father” in the famous melodrama Gold in the Hills, a role “I played years ago, before the dawn of civilization,” Salassi chuckles.
A Visit with Mark Twain! plays Monday night, May 17, at 8:00 p.m., and again on Tuesday night, May 18, at 8:00 p.m. at the Parkside Playhouse.