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Actor holds court on historic steamship-turned-stage

New York director Adam Klasfeld has developed "The Report of My Death," a one-man show about Mark Twain's life, which made its public premiere July 22 aboard a 173-foot former Coast Guard lighthouse tender.

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Now named Lilac, the vessel was launched in 1933 and served as a lighthouse tender for the U.S. Lighthouse Service from 1933-39. She is now docked at Pier 40 on the Hudson River in the South Village of New York City.

"I found an ad a few months ago on Craigslist, offering the ship to art venues," says Klasfeld, who is also the playwright. "Since much of the play recounts Mark Twain's world tour by steamboat, there couldn't have been a more perfect setting."

The one-man play features the ghost of Mark Twain recounting to the audience the darker parts of his life, focusing particularly his 1895 world tour on a steamboat he undertook to pay off his creditors.

"This whole thing worked out better than I could have ever imagined," says Klasfeld. "I've never directed a production on a ship before so it's been an adventure."

Klasfeld says the biggest challenge was the sound, making sure the actor, Michael Graves, could be heard.

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"During rehearsals, there might be a concert on the pier or party boats going by during a scene," says Klasfeld. "We realized early on we had to invest in a good sound system because when you're outdoors, you never know what's going to come up."

Graves says it's a challenge for him each night of the performance to somehow incorporate the outside noises and events into the script to keep the audience involved.

"You might have the ship's captain wander into a scene," says Graves. "I've never acted on a boat before, and it's very different from the theater, but I'm pretty adjustable."

The 800-ton steamship Lilac made Pier 40 its home in 2004 and though its engine is non-operational, it functions as a historical site. Remaining performances are 8 p.m. Aug. 12-15 and Aug. 21-22. Run time is one hour and 45 minutes. For information on tickets, cast, and crew, visit

— Elizabeth Ellis