The actor portrays Mark Twain on stage as he continues his nine-performance run in his one-man show

By Benjamin Svetkey
Updated April 13, 2012 at 04:00 AM EDT

It sounds like an April Fools’ joke — Val Kilmer in a one-man show about Mark Twain. What’s next? Vin Diesel does Abraham Lincoln? But the famously eccentric star who once portrayed Jim Morrison in The Doors and John Holmes in Wonderland really has been playing Samuel Clemens live on stage in L.A. In fact, he’s been blowing the roof off the Masonic Lodge at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where Citizen Twain (which Kilmer, 52, also wrote, directed, and produced) has been ”workshopping” since March 30. All nine performances — the play ends its run April 12 — have sold out, at the not-cheap price of $60 a head. Even more astonishing, the reviews have been…not that bad.

The play is actually preparation for a movie Kilmer is trying to get off the ground about Twain and Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Christian Science movement. As the actor, who was raised as a Christian Scientist, explained during a Q&A with the 200-plus people in the audience after an Easter Sunday matinee, ”You really can’t understand Twain without experiencing him on a stage.” And experience is the word for it. The free-form performance lasts a little over an hour, with Kilmer — wearing a Colonel Sanders-style suit, a bushy white mustache, and enough facial prosthetics for at least a couple of Meryl Streep movies — delivering a winding monologue mixing Twain’s witticisms with his own (”Why is there no cat food that is mouse-flavored?”), acting out multiple roles in lengthy passages of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, pretending to ferry the audience along the Mississippi in a steamboat, and even singing ”Ol’ Man River.”

”Apparently,” Kilmer says in the play, quoting one of Twain’s most apropos quips, ”there is nothing that cannot happen today.”