If any of you live in or near the Coachella Valley (about two hours east of L.A.)-- and if you do, why haven’t we got together?–I urge you to see IS HE DEAD? this weekend, Friday - Sunday, November 16-18 at the Joslyn Center in Palm Desert.
Written by Mark Twain (yes, that Mark Twain) in 1898, it was discovered in 2001 by Shelley Fisher Fishkin in the library of the University of California Berkeley while doing research among Twain’s archives. She began reading the play, which had never been published or performed, and was soon laughing out loud.
She took it to playwright David Ives, who turned the overlong, lumpy script with twenty-four characters into a smoother play for the 21st century with only fourteen (eleven when actors took additional parts). Performed on Broadway in 2007, it gained rave reviews even from the New York Times.
The story takes place in Paris in the 19th century and is about an artist who becomes convinced his paintings would be worth more if he were dead. So he fakes his death, but, not willing to hide in a closet for eternity, pretends to be his own twin sister, a charming widow. And the hilarity begins. “Think TOOTSIE meets LA BOHEME,” said Jesse Green of the NYT.
The production we saw was flawless, with great acting, fabulous costumes and a set that went from Grungy to Glamourous during the one short intermission. If you ever get a chance to see it, run, don’t walk, to the box office and reserve a seat.
Besides the clever plot and Twain’s jokes, there’s a running gag about pronouncing the artist’s name, which was Millet. People kept calling him “Mill - et” instead of the correct French pronunciation, “Mee - yay.” I related to that more than others due to having been married briefly to a Frenchman named Tillot. Once again the double-L should sound like a “Y”, as in “Tee - yo” and I suffered being called “Till - ut” here in the U.S. But I really love my current husband and didn’t marry him just because most people can pronounce “Humphrey.”
IS HE DEAD? is going on my list of funniest plays, along with THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER, and NOISES OFF. Do you have a favorite play you go to see every chance you get? By the way, movies don’t count because sometimes Hollywood gets it wrong.
IS HE DEAD?
THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER