The ArtsCenter in Carrboro will host “The Devil and Mark Twain,” a play written and performed by Paul Newell. The play pulls threads about ethics in race and authorship as Twain struggles to navigate writing “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and his autobiography.
“He got halfway through 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn' and he didn’t know what to do with it,” Newell said. “Once he got that boy and the runaway slave on the river he didn’t know what to do with it. He actually threatened to burn it at one time.”
Newell wrote the play to showcase the collision and interplay of Mark Twain’s life and work. He twists the chronology so that the writing of “Huckleberry Finn” and his autobiography coincide.
“He’s looking over some old letters that he wrote to his mother and he sees one that is pretty openly racist,” Newell said. “The question is: does he include this in his autobiography or not? He’s struggling with these two things, his autobiography being his life and the adventures being his work. It’s the 'fessing up to his own life and the giving birth to what some call the greatest achievement of American literature.”
Like Twain, Newell largely works alone. But he does get help from collaborator Mark Cornell. Cornell is an award-winning playwright who’s worked in community theater for more than 20 years. The two met as members of a playwrights’ roundtable that produced several short works a year, but they decided to break off on their own, forming Full Nelson Theater.