News of Twain Center’s woes no exaggeration |

News of Twain Center’s woes no exaggeration

Tim Parsons
McAvoy Layne, seen above as a windowpane and the "Ghost of Twain," said his cultural venue in Incline's Village Center will close at the end of the month.

Mark Twain’s only play was titled “Is He Dead?”

The answer appears to be yes regarding the venue named after the author who famously wrote about his time at Lake Tahoe.

The Mark Twain Cultural Center, an Incline Village venue since opening July 2, 2010, has presented music, theater, living history, school programs, lectures and appearances from its co-proprietor, McAvoy Layne, who for 24 years at Lake Tahoe has impersonated author Samuel Clemens as “the Ghost of Mark Twain.”

While it could produce Groucho Marx from the rafters, nuevo flamenco guitarists upon a stage and a dead-ringer for one of America’s greatest authors from behind a doorway, it could not draw a steady audience during wintertime.

Two final events are scheduled for Friday, Dec. 9, and Dec. 30, before the center shuts down.

“We had a wonderful, generous agreement from the landlord and we got great breaks from advertising and press coverage,” Layne said. “We had everything going our way. … We do make enough money in the summer, but not enough to make it through in the winter.”

A couple of authors who lectured at the Twain Center were disappointed to hear of its demise.

“I thought it was a great idea that would catch on,” said David C. Antonucci, who this year published his second book, “Fairest Picture: Mark Twain at Lake Tahoe.”

“Something like this hadn’t been done before. Usually entertainment is associated with a casino or a restaurant, and this was a stand-alone cultural center without government subsidy, without much outside help trying to stand on its own. So, to me, I thought it was courageous. Tahoe is a really tough business environment.”

Paul McHugh, an author and former San Francisco Chronicle outdoors writer, twice spoke in the Village Center’s corner confines.

“A comfortable, warm and intimate performance space is an incredible asset for any community,” McHugh wrote in an e-mail to Lake Tahoe Action. “It provides a place for neighbors to gather in a convivial setting, and it offers an opportunity for local performers to develop and hone their craft. A good community center is equal parts Irish pub, secular church, and a chautauqua with roots.

“What Rebecca and McAvoy (Layne) created was one of the best such centers I have seen since the heyday of The Well in Mendocino or The Sleeping Lady Cafe in Fairfax, both in the 1970s, which shows you how rare and special these places can be. Fueled by Rebecca’s kindness and McAvoy’s charisma, the MTCC was as homey as a friend’s living room, and as exciting as a live performance by an unknown artist heading for stardom.”

The Twain Center raised $5,600 for charities, Layne said.

McAvoy Layne said he and his wife might look into opening a venue at South Shore. He also would consider teaming up with a nonprofit organization, another business or both.

“We have one ace in the hole; we put out a feeler to Toccata,” he said. “If that, in fact, happens we might throw out another feeler to e-Learning Cafe; they’ve sort of outgrown their little place (in the Raley’s Center). So they could have it during the day and we could share it with Toccata at night. I think we’d appeal to very much the same audience.”

McHugh hopes the couple continues to offer entertainment.

“It was my privilege to be able to give two presentations at the MTCC, and I can say that I – and I hope my audiences – enjoyed those experiences entirely,” he said.

“I don’t know what Rebecca and ‘Mac’ plan to do next, but I hope they will devote their skills and talents to nurturing similar events, somehow, somewhere, someday. I wish them the best, and were I in charge of MacArthur (genius) grants, I’d certainly award them one! And maybe, two.”

Layne for several years has written a weekly newspaper column, “Pine Nuts.” He allowed a preview of his upcoming words:

“The effort-reward formula that underpins capitalism is what inspired the Twain Center. The proprietors believed if you have a good product, are smart, try hard and play by the rules, well, you are destined to succeed. … (But) the break-even fairy failed to arrive. The success story evaporated as ephemerally as a whiff of smoke from an expensive wood-burning stove.”

While attendance has been low this winter, Layne recommended reservations be made for Friday’s Arts For the Schools fundraiser presentation of “Roughing It Part One,” where the Ghost of Twain will share his boyhood adventures on the river, with Marion Rangers, Overland, Virginia City and Lake Tahoe. The doors open at 6 p.m. and author Michael Makley begins the entertainment at 6:30 p.m. with a lecture about his new book, “A Short History of Lake Tahoe.” The cost is $15 for adults and $5 for seniors, students and military.

“An Evening with Mark Twain” on Dec. 30 will be what Layne called “a champagne farewell.”

“It is rumored,” Layne said, “Mark Twain will sing the Lesley Gore song ‘It’s my Party and I’ll Cry if I want to.’ “

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