Splittin' the Raft

Marin Theatre Company Production

Splittin' the Raft

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People's Light and Theatre Company Production

Splittin' the Raft

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From the Playwright

Mark Twain once remarked that a “classic” is a book that everybody praises and nobody reads. By this definition, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is most certainly a classic. Adults don’t read it because they figure it’s a kid’s book. And kids don’t read it because their teachers don’t dare to teach it. And who can blame them? The dreaded “n” word appears in the story 206 times! For this reason, one critic likened the teaching of Huck Finn to “pulling the pin of a hand grenade and tossing it into the American classroom.”

The problem is—whether you consider Huck Finn a classic or a piece of racist trash—the book cannot be thrown behind the cabin like a dead snake and left to rot. It’s an indelible part of our heritage that must be grappled with—like the clause in the constitution that declares slaves to be equal to “three-fifths of all other persons.” Or the “separate but equal” decision in Plessy v. Ferguson. Or, in our own time, the Rodney King riots, the O.J. Simpson trials, and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Splittin’ the Raft was launched at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland when three actors and I set out to create a forty-minute adaptation of Huck Finn to be performed in classrooms around the west coast. During that first tour, the actors would preface each performance with a caution to the students about using the “n” word, and end with a discussion about Twain’s use of the word in his book. Teachers were ecstatic: Huck Finn was back in school.

A year later, we expanded that script into a full-length version. And the year after that, we added the character of Frederick Douglass to provide context and balance. And the process continued…

Now, many years after the journey first began, you will see the current incarnation of a work that continues to evolve—much like the ongoing dialogue about race that we, as Americans, have been having for nearly four centuries in our shared, yet divided country.

—Scott Kaiser