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  • "Will it play in Peoria?" is a figure of speech which is traditionally used to ask whether a given product, person, promotional theme, or event will appeal to mainstream (also called "Main Street") America, or across a broad range of demographic and psychographic groups.

    Last night, I was privileged to witness Hal Holbrook perform his legendary role in Mark Twain Tonight, and I have never been more satisfied with a performance. At the age of 87, Mr. Holbrook gives new meaning to the word perseverance, especially when you consider he has been performing this one-man show since 1954. I assure you, Mark Twain Tonight plays in Peoria.

    Many years ago in high school, I was fortunate enough to take a few classes in drama from a variety of very talented people. A constant theme of learning that trade is to create the “illusion of the first time” for the audience. Mr. Holbrook's performance goes far beyond that. While intellectually I knew I was watching Hal Holbrook, visually and emotionally I was spending two hours with Mark Twain, and it was an enjoyable and eye opening two hours indeed.

    I learned from the playbill there could be several topics included in the performance, and those topics are selected at random by Mr. Holbrook as he sees fit to include them. We were regaled with quips and comments concerning politicians and congress, as well as a healthy interspersion of opinions concerning the actions of American Christians. Also included, and I later learned always included, was an excerpt from Huckleberry Finn. In a mock prayer from his “pulpit” on stage, he also performed an excerpt from “The War Prayer”, a seldom cited work of Twain's that is so compelling I will include it at the close of this article.

    This American born actor has had an exceptional success in the entertainment industry, been married three times, divorced twice, widowed once, and is an accomplished sailor as well as an award winning actor. He has currently completed the first book of his autobiography, “Harold” and is working on the second. I will be reading Harold as soon as I have a copy and eagerly awaiting the release of its companion.

    If you have the opportunity to see this play, I cannot recommend it highly enough. It is the quintessential performance given by a man who has dedicated his life to it's perfection.


    The War Prayer

    "O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it -- for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.”
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