PITTSBURGH - Ever since he was a young actor playing cops and other tough guy parts, Pittsburgh native and Duquesne University graduate Tom Atkins has wanted to do a one-man show portraying Hal Holbrook portraying Mark Twain.
He got his wish Sunday night when Holbrook came down with the flu just hours before he was scheduled to take the stage at Heinz Hall to do Hal Holbrook in Mark Twain Tonight! Atkins agreed to go on, but insisted the title be changed to Tom Atkins in Hal Holbrook in Mark Twain Tonight!
"Twain held a mirror up to society, and his material is as fresh today as when he was alive," said Atkins. But Atkins felt some updating was needed so he quickly called in playwright and sports writer Gene Collier, with whom Atkins collaborated on The Chief, a celebration of the life of Pittsburgh Steelers patriarch Art Rooney.
"First thing I did," said Collier, "I ditched the Holbrook make-up. The way Tom and I envision Twain, he should look more like -- well, Art Rooney, believe it or not. And I doubt that anybody noticed, but I changed the Mississippi River to the Monongahela."
The most rewarding part of the show for Atkins playing Holbrook playing Twain was when Twain pretends to be President Andrew Jackson. "That's a dream come true," said Atkins. "Being Holbrook being Twain being Jackson and looking like Art Rooney. Hell, you just get lost in the role. Or roles. When I got home Sunday night, I didn't know who the hell I was."