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We Applaud Paul Newell’s Writing of, as Well as His Acting in, The Devil and Mark Twain

It’s great to spend an evening with an old friend, and it’s especially great when you feel as though “You were there” when your friend experienced a profound transformation.

Anyone even remotely familiar with the works of 19th century American author/humorist Mark Twain will experience that feeling attending Full Nelson Theater’s The Devil and Mark Twain, playing today through Sunday, March 24th, at The ArtsCenter of Carrboro.

Playwright/actor Paul Newell has penned and performs this one-man show in which he plays Mark Twain and spends much of the time engaging the audience in a manner similar to that with which Twain himself had entertained and enthralled auditoriums full of people while on the lecture circuit. The play also contains brief periods in which Twain seems to be communing with his muses; there is a dream sequence; and there is the abovementioned transformation in which Twain morphs into one of his own characters, thereby becoming thoroughly familiar with that character and thus enabling himself (finally) to write this character of his.

Twain lets us know early on that he has been experiencing writer’s block with what he feels is a very important work, and he has come to the rural New York cabin that his in-laws (the Langdons) have supplied him with for his creative retreat. He also mentions, in passing, his signature style in which he endeavors to “write as though I’m talking.” And he embeds a refutation to any ” political correctness” criticism of his word-choice with the statement “It’s precisely about the language.”

Newell has mastered that twinkle-in-the-eye look that readers have come to imagine while reading Twain’s work. With gentle (and not-so-gentle) wit, along with subtle (and not-so-subtle) sarcasm, Twain shares several of his observations about the foibles of mankind and “organized religion.” And he is not shy about including himself as a target. Every audience member will feel enlightened and, perhaps, a little chastised.

The action of the play takes place alternately in the abovementioned cabin and in the mind of Twain. While the program does not credit a scenic designer, we have been led to believe that Newell designed and built the detailed interior of the cabin himself. Lighting designer Victoria Barnes has created effects that signify transitions to and from the interior of Twain’s mind.

Spoiler Alert (not really!): While The Devil does make a brief appearance in the script, it is really Twain himself in disguise; and he appears as a device for underscoring a crisis of conscience undergone to a certain extent by Twain himself and, more poignantly, by Twain’s character Huckleberry Finn.

From the Department of Picky-Picky: While the lighting design is certainly adequate overall, and definitely establishes sharp contrasts for the changes in mood and the shifts between Twain’s interior and exterior focus, we feel that the production could be enhanced by a more dynamic approach as Twain navigates the stage, perhaps making use of cross-fades in order to highlight the different acting areas that Twain moves in and out of.

Lovers of Twain’s work and his style will encounter familiar phrases and will find themselves vowing to reread old favorites and to explore as-yet unread works by this American master. And that tiny percentage of the populace that has never read anything by Twain might feel prodded to give a few of his books a try.

We applaud Paul Newell’s writing as well as his acting, and we heartily recommend that everyone schedule an evening with The Devil and Mark Twain.

SECOND OPINION: March 7th Chapel Hill, NC Daily Tar Heel (student newspaper) preview by Robert Keener: .

The Full Nelson Theater presents THE DEVIL AND MARK TWAIN at 3 p.m. March 17, 8 p.m. March 22 and 23, and 3 p.m. March 24 in the Earl and Rhoda Wynn Theater at The ArtsCenter, 300-G E. Main St., Carrboro, North Carolina 27510.


INFORMATION: 919-929-2787.

SHOW: and



VENUE:,, and



Mark Twain (novelist, nee Samuel Langhorne Clemens, 1835-1910): (Encyclopædia Britannica) and (Wikipedia).

Paul Newell (playwright/actor): (Facebook page).


Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.

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