Mark Twain lives on in Virginia City

Virginia City is a place where Mark Twain made his mark.

Virginia City is a place where Mark Twain made his mark.

Like many ghosts of Virginia City’s past, the spirit of Mark Twain seems to haunt the streets and hangouts of the famous boomtown.

Certainly, the living residents of the Comstock won’t let his memory fade. Twain’s popularity appears as strong as ever, and local audiences still flock to see Twain-inspired performances. Local impersonator McAvoy Layne is well-known for his portrayal of the satirist in local television commercials and stage performances. In December, actor Hal Holbrook performed his acclaimed one-man show, Mark Twain Tonight, for two sold-out performances at Piper’s Opera House.

This weekend, Virginia City newcomer John Robert Benneth will don the familiar distinctive wig and moustache for his one-man show, The Secret Twain. Benneth said he will recount the humorist’s lost stories and untold adventures in Virginia City.

He said one of the things he will talk about is Twain’s interest in mental telepathy and will even demonstrate some mind reading and hypnosis with willing audience members. (Benneth, who hails from Oregon, said he’s had a little experience with this as a member of the Portland Magicians Society.)

He will also talk a bit about 19th-century humorist Artemus Ward, whom Benneth cited as an inspiration behind Twain’s writings, and Twain’s journalism stint at the Territorial Enterprise, where he worked with another famous Comstock character, Dan DeQuille.

Like his subject, Benneth was drawn to Virginia City, but it wasn’t the search for silver that brought him there. He said that for years, something told him to head for Northern Nevada. Last September, he decided to listen to his intuition and headed to Reno. When he arrived here, the actor couldn’t find a place to stay, because hotel rooms were filled up with tourists visiting for the Street Vibrations celebration. He said his inner voice told him to go to Virginia City, and he obeyed.

When he arrived in Virginia City, he was drawn to Piper’s Opera House. He said he felt a bit of deju vu when he saw Piper’s, because he had worked at a theater in Oregon that looked like the Virginia City landmark. The town made a good impression on him, and he quickly found work as a handyman with the Nevada Shakespeare Festival and got a part in a gunfighter show.

It didn’t take Benneth long to realize that Mark Twain was a popular attraction in this town. He decided to start learning more about this historical figure and spent several months researching the writer. He said Twain is the perfect ambassador for Northern Nevada, and he hopes there will be enough interest to make this show a more frequent event.

“Doors have opened to me,” he said. “[It’s] a testament of what you can do when you follow the little voice inside.”

The Secret Twain will be performed at 8 p.m. Jan. 26 and 1:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Jan. 27 at Piper’s Opera House, 12 N. "B" St., in Virginia City. Tickets are $5 for the matinee shows and $10 for the evening shows. Call 847-0454.