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May 16, 1996|JAMES E. FOWLER


An American classic comes to the Alex Theatre tonight.

Hal Holbrook has been portraying Mark Twain for so long, it's hard for some baby boomers to think of one without the other.

Holbrook first performed his one-man show as Twain in 1954. After five more years of researching, writing and honing his performance in front of audiences in small towns across America, "Mark Twain Tonight" opened off-Broadway in New York in 1959. It was an instant success.

Holbrook has become so identified with this one role that some people tend to overlook his other television and film work, which has earned him five Emmys, seven more Emmy nominations plus several other awards.

His stage work has included title roles in "King Lear" and "Uncle Vanya." And he recently completed a turn as Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman."

He keeps the Twain show fresh by limiting his performances to about 20 a year.

"I have about 12 hours of material," he says. "I can go out and make it up as I go along.

"It [the show] has a certain form, but I have a lot of choices," he says.

Twain's words seem to reflect on what's going on in Washington and the world today, Holbrook says, stressing the word "seem" because Twain died in 1910.

"It's topical and allows me to get rid of my own impatience with the world," Holbrook says. "The material is a helluva lot of fun to do, and it's hard to get tired of."

"Mark Twain Tonight," starring Hal Holbrook at 8 tonight at the Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale. Tickets are $40-$45. Call (800) 233-3123.


The Angeles String Quartet, which is performing Saturday at the Valley Cities Jewish Community Center in Van Nuys, was formed about seven years ago in Los Angeles and has performed to rave reviews across the country ever since. The ensemble consists of Stephen Erdody on cello, Kathleen Lenski and Steven Miller on violins and Brian Dembow on viola.

In addition to its busy concert schedule, the ensemble is engaged in a five-year project to record all of Joseph Haydn's 68 pieces written for the string quartet. The project is being supported by the Joseph Haydn Society.

"When we started, it was a mammoth undertaking," Erdody says. "We're taking them one at a time; we're halfway there. We hope people will rediscover Haydn when we're through."

Not surprisingly, Saturday's program will include two Haydn quartets: Opus 17, No. 2 and Opus 50, No. 1.

The Angeles String Quartet performs at 8 p.m. Saturday at Valley Cities Jewish Community Center, 13164 Burbank Blvd., Van Nuys. Tickets are $12 general, $10 seniors, students and members. Call (818) 786-6310.


Now in its 36th year, the Topanga Banjo Fiddle Contest has added a few new wrinkles.

The contest will have 115 contestants competing this year along with three professional string bands, folk dancing, storytelling, shape note singing, crafts, folk arts and other activities for children and adults.

But, in addition to the music, this year's event will have a new "March for Parks" segment featuring displays and literature about the plants, animals, geology, archeology and history of the Santa Monica Mountains, along with nature hikes and hayrides.

And, as is contest tradition, there will be many opportunities for jamming with other pickers of various ages and skill levels.

The 36th Topanga Banjo Fiddle Contest and March for Parks runs from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday at Paramount Ranch in Agoura. Admission is $7 general, $4 for ages 10-17 and 65 and older, free for ages 10 and younger. Call (818) 382-4819.

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