“Name the greatest of all inventors. Accident.” —Mark Twain
During the night that bridged March 16 and 17 of this year, the relationship between Huck Finn and Jim captured my imagination. I had already decided to loosely base the female characters of the yet-to-be-name Huckleberry Hostel on Mark Twain’s fictional ladies—although it would take many more weeks to decide on Emmeline as my third muse—but at first I was resistant to tackle a modern-day version of the incendiary Finn/Jim relationship. Then it was all I wanted to do.
Social commentary put aside, at the heart of this relationship is a deep loyalty and true friendship—a comfort in one another’s company—and it was this that I wanted to focus on. In a sense disregarding my source material, I put aside a potential conversation of race in our Obama Nation. That James (my Jim) was an African American man and Finn (my Huck) was a white boy was never commented upon. I have often thought that the ultimate victory of equality will be won not when people of different races, genders, and sexual orientations enjoy the same rights and opportunities—it will be when it is no longer noteworthy that they enjoy these rights and opportunities.
During my back-and-forth with my OnSite collaborators, it became clear that my allusions to Huckleberry Finn were not at the heart of the drama: they were merely fun little inside-asides to the literary-minded of my audience. So when the African American actor—who’s participation had originally encouraged me to explore the Huck Finn/Jim friendship—quit early in the rehearsal process (because, as I understand it, he did not feel he was compatible with the rest of the talented cast . . . I’ll leave it up to you to decipher that), it was interesting to realize that we had some flexibility in recasting. If the relationship-as-written was no longer about race, then the race of the actor was no longer significant. The director and artistic director were free to cast whichever actor would collaborate best with their already established ensemble. So they did!
“Ah, live theater,” remarked the artistic director of Just Theatre at the 1001 opening on Monday, when she prompted a false start to the show after a speedy preshow announcement. We laughed. We clapped. We didn’t care. The show started, and we forgot all about it. Live theater is what happens when problems are solved and those seamless solutions become the show itself.
My thoughts are with you tonight, cast of Huckleberry Hostel! I wish I could be there for the ride.