Mark Twain and Friends: A River Journey

It is a considerable challenge to adapt the body of a great author's work to stage. This is especially true of Mark Twain, as his work is both familiar and remote for modern audiences. Adaptor Gregory White admirably rises to the challenge in this evening that combines the lively and wise personage of Twain with some of his most well-known and obscure writings. All of the characters are brought vividly to life by the gifted Interact ensemble under the solid direction of Dave Florek.

James Greene as Mark Twain commands the proceedings with a steady, knowing presence that communicates volumes with only a few words. He recounts his early experiences as the young Sam Clemens (Dustin Cardinal), learning to pilot the Mississippi under the tutelage of Chief Pilot Bixby (White). And he recalls his youth in Hannibal and the earthy wisdom of his mother (Eve Brenner).

While Twain's most famous characters--including Huckleberry Finn (Colin Thomas Jennings) and Jim (Thomas Silcott)--are part of the ensemble, there are also lesser-known souls, such as the greedy undertaker (Bob Larkin) who knows exactly how to fleece poor widows, the blue jay woman (Brenner) who critiques the grammar of animals, Captain Stormfield (Don Fischer) who finds his own personal heaven, a mumbling gambler (Florek) who tries to enlist a minister for a funeral although using incomprehensible riverboat argot, and an invalid (Alan Brooks) and a railway employee (White) trying to avoid the smell of a rotting corpse.

The piece, so ably edited and dramatized by White, illustrates the greatness and power of Twain's work, which manages with almost primitive simplicity to summon the most profound truths Huck and Jim's passages on the raft are still among the most graceful and transcendent in the English language, and Jennings and Silcott bring a robust, vivid, and contemporary spark to the words and to their characters. Greene finds the perfect cadence for Twain, who experienced a range of happiness and despair in his life, but who never lost his perspective on the human soul or his ability to communicate the essentials of our lives.

Presented by Interact Theatre Company at the NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. Nov. 18-Dec. 11. (818) 765-8732.