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Pine Nuts: Piper’s Opera House

McAvoy Layne

This lucky boy was at Piper’s Opera House last night, lucky to be alive and onstage to present, ‘An Evening with Mark Twain,’ where, as a benefit for the Comstock Foundation, I was able to close a long loop with a flood of memories…

When I was ten years old my father took our family on a tour of Piper’s. I fell into a revery in front of the box to the right side of the stage, and my father had to drag me away from there. Forty years later I would be sitting in that same box, waiting to deliver the commencement speech for Virginia City High. My ten-year-old self knew that box was going to be in my life, and as I glanced over to that same box last night, filled with friends, I had to smile. But wait, there’s more…

In the endless summer of ‘88, I was just getting started presenting enrichment programs in Nevada schools when I got a call from Carol Piper Marshall, great granddaughter of John Piper…



            “McAvoy, I understand you’re presenting Mark Twain in the schools.”

            “Yes, and having a grand time of it, visiting ten schools a week.”



            “How would you like to do two shows a day here at Piper’s Opera House, six days a week for the four months of summer?”

There was silence on my end as I was on the floor. So lucky me, I got to present 200 shows at Piper’s, and to find out from live audiences which passages of Twain’s recite, and which passages should be left as literature. What a lucky break.

Suddenly last night, 34 stirring years later, and 4,000 shows from Hawaii to Russia, I found myself back on that stage at Piper’s, bathing in a shower of pleasant memories.

Kim Harris was in the audience, she of immense talent as an impressionist of whomever she wants to be, and she brought a broad smile to my face when I pictured her on that same stage later this summer presenting, ‘An Evening with, ­­­­­(SURPRISE),’ as a benefit for the Comstock Foundation.

Then the idea occurred to me that perhaps I could complete my loop next summer and present a farewell program on that very stage where it all started. What could be nicer than to end a fulfilling journey right where it began?  I might still decide to welcome folks into my home for ‘An Evening with Mark Twain,’ but my driving and flying days would be over at last.

Yes, I must secure Piper’s for an evening in late September next summer, and share the evening with that ten-year-old boy who was so mesmerized by the box on the right side of that stage, and to the 45-year-old impressionist waiting in the wings back in the summer of ’88, to take that stage and pretend to be the Father of American Literature. I can’t wait for next summer. Now I need to start taking care of myself so I can make it to that auspicious occasion…

Thank you Carol Piper Marshall for the summer of ’88 start, and thank you Steven Saylor for today’s dynamic Comstock Foundation…


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