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Historic building sets stage for Garey’s one-man shows

Richard Garey, after performing his one-man shows in an historic stone building for nearly two decades, now has a small theater in a former dance studio at 309 Broadway. Last weekend he performed ‘A Shepherd’s Tale’ as a fundraiser for“Embrace,” a local organization which works with foster children. Contributed photo


Tucked away within a row of storefronts along the south side of Broadway’s 300 block is a small theater - with seating for 50 - where people can stop and relax, while the hands of time rewind.

Richard and Patricia Garey, who when they first moved to Hannibal, transformed an 1849-stone building near Mark Twain’s boyhood home into a theater, have now consolidated their properties. They purchased a building at 309 Broadway - a former dance studio - converting the first floor into a theater, and the upper floors for their living, work and storage space.

The star attraction for the theater is Richard Garey himself, a life-long actor who, during his career, has worked all across the United States, as well as abroad.

In 2003, he and his wife chose Hannibal as their home.

“We live here. We really like living here. I came from Tennessee originally; it’s a very similar culture. When I first came here, it felt familiar. Everyone has an opinion, and is willing to express it. There are a good number of eccentrics in town, and they’re not afraid to be different. It’s a very entertaining place to live. I enjoy people.”

In the past, he has offered theater presentations for Hannibal residents and visitors alike, but this year he has taken a step back from that hectic pace.

Instead, he is performing his one-man shows for scheduled groups only. Last weekend, for example, he presented his Christmas staple, “A Shepherd’s Tale,” to audiences, as a benefit for “Embrace,” a local organization which works with foster children.

“I do the bus tours and the groups that come to town, or local shows, like the one Sunday night was local, for local people. It’s easier for me; doing daily shows is quite a grind.” With the daily shows,  “I also have to do marketing, running a business, keeping records, all the tings that go with running a business as a live theater. I’ve given that part up.

“‘A Shepherd’s Tale’ was the first show I developed here,” he said. “I took two years to research what life was like for shepherds in Judea.” Last Saturday night, “We had Jewish visitors and they said my Hebrew was ‘right on.’” In preparation for  this show, “I had a Rabbi teach me some Hebrew songs.”

It was never in his life plan to own his own theater. “I came (to Hannibal) on a visit and Faye Bleigh was director of convention bureau. A clerk at the bureau asked, ‘Has anyone ever told you that you look like Mark Twain? Our director would like to meet with you.’

“We tried it the next summer at the (old) Mark Twain Hotel,” and the venture was a success.

That led to moving to Hannibal with his wife, Patricia, including purchasing the 1849 barn to use as a theater.

“I developed three shows, and the theater, it gave me a place to rehearse and try it out.”

These days, while he is still touring, much of his acting is done aboard cruise ships.

“My most popular shows on the riverboat, are ‘Mark Twain for President’ and ‘Mark Twain on Slavery,’ in Twain’s own words. He had wonderful political humor, and it so fits right now.

Slavery, his experience with slavery as a boy, leading up to writing Huckleberry Finn.

“I don’t perform anything in my Mark Twain shows that he didn’t write or say. I can’t say it better. Why would I use my own stupid words when the master is writing for me? And it helps to give the flavor of the man in his actual words.”

One of his favorite of Twain’s passages is, “If we got half our wishes, we would double our troubles.”

“Isn’t it the truth? When I was a teenager, there was a car I wanted. I went to my dad, I needed some money. He said no. I thought that was the worst thing. A friend of mine bought (the car) and he had every problem. He didn’t get to enjoy it and lost a lot of money on it.”

In 2024, Garey has two cruises scheduled on the Columbia and Snake Rivers in Washington State, where he will present Mark Twain’s western stories.

In addition, “I’m doing four cruises in New England, two out of Boston and two out of Providence, Rhode Island.”

For the New England cruises, the focus will be on Capt. Joseph Bates, a New England sea captain.

“I have a one-man show which I developed when I lived there. The show tells about his life, starting as a cabin boy working his way up. It was the early part of the 19th century.  He was in England, gone on a ship, when an impressment gang grabbled him and he was impressed into the British navy. He served pretty much against his will for five years.

“I get to do a New England dialect,” he said, learned from his time living in New Bedford, Mass.

In addition, he has 13 tours scheduled on the American Cruise Lines in 2024. “I start cruises in May this year,” he said.

In addition to the riverboat cruises, “I’m continuing to tour, as long as I can.” On Nov. 30, Mark Twain’s birthday,  “I started a run of shows at the Westport Playhouse in St. Louis. It was a lot of fun; I got to celebrate his birthday. His sister Mela lived in St. Louis, that’s where he got his mail when he was a pilot.”

And Bermuda was Mark Twain’s favorite vacation spot.

“I did a week of shows (in Bermuda) when they celebrated their 400th anniversary. A couple of theaters have talked to me about coming back, but we’ve never been able to make the schedule work.”

If he does get to go back to Bermuda, he has a perfect place to stay.

”I taught a student many years ago in Virginia at a private school, and he went on to work for the Royal Shakespeare Company in England for several years. When his father died, he was needed back in Bermuda, so he went back home and started an investment business. When I did shows in Bermuda, I stayed at his house. Now he has purchased the house Mark Twain stayed in the last time he was in Bermuda, and he said I can stay there the next time I come.

Mary Lou Montgomery retired from the Hannibal Courier-Post in 2014, after 39 years as a community journalist.


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