When Teddy Roosevelt and Mark Twain were around, so was the Fayette Opera House. That makes this week's performances of "As Different as a Frog and a Grizzly" a unique event.
When the production opens for a 12:30 p.m. Thursday matinée—the first of three showings this week—it will mark the first time the play has been performed on a stage that was in use when Roosevelt was president and Samuel Clemens (Twain) was writing his biting but humorous words.
The Fayette production is also the first time that Dr. Jan Younger's play has been performed in a non-college environment.
The play features an imagined debate between the two famous Americans.
"They never had an actual debate," said Fayette Community Fine Arts Council director Tom Spiess, "but they spent a lot of time thinking about each other."
And the thoughts often weren't complimentary. After all, you might say they were as different as a frog and a grizzly—Twain with his well-known story about the bullfrog jumping contest and Roosevelt with his claims of hunting grizzly bear.
The Fayette production takes a diversion from the usual and, for the first time, will be presented in an enhanced reader’s theater format. The one-act play features two "readers"—Fayette native Randy Stuckey taking the part of Roosevelt and Spiess playing Mark Twain. Ruth Marlatt serves as the narrator to tie the readings together.
All three of the actors knew Dr. Robert Nyce and Bill Steinem, two former Fayette stalwarts who generally had opposing views on issues. The historical sketch is part of the Steinem-Nyce Series on Civil Conversations and Civic Engagement, designed to encourage public discourse about issues.
"Attitudes that were prevalent from 1900 to 1920 run almost parallel to those expressed today," Spiess said.
A goal of the production is for audience members to hear the words of Roosevelt and Twain and use that as a catalyst for people to gather and rediscover the importance of dialog and community engagement. A post-production “talk back” session between the audience, performers and the playwright will cap off each performance.
Younger’s play débuted in 2002 as a part of the one-year anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center. Just as the tragic attack on 9/11 prompted a need to reëvaluate American foreign policy and security, so has the escalating harsh and divisive political rhetoric served as an awakening call to those citizens who recall and value open, public and civil conversations that lead to community action.
Speaking for the newly formed Bean Creek Valley History Center, acting curator Colleen Rufenacht said: “We value the discovery of facts that shed light on our common historical roots. This production offers a perfect opportunity to highlight the differences between these two American icons.”
The May 1 (Law Day) matinée production is free for senior citizens. In addition, the $10 adult general admission ticket will be reduced to $5 when the adult ticket holder is accompanied by a student. This production is designed for students in the upper grades, and young people in this age group will be admitted free.
For ticket information about the 3 p.m. Sunday showing, call 419/237-3111.