A new comedy by Mark Twain, as adapted by David Ives
The wildly hilarious “new” farce from the father of American wit, Mark Twain. Jean-Francois Millet, a young painter of genius, is in love with Marie Leroux but in debt to a villainous picture-dealer, Bastien Andre. Andre forecloses on Millet, threatening debtor's prison unless Marie marries him. Millet realizes the only way he can pay his debts and keep Marie from marrying Andre is to die, as it is only dead painters who achieve fame and fortune. Millet’s plan was flawed from the start - once he’s declared dead he can’t collect on his fortune. The romp is on as he pursues his passion for painting, his fortune and the woman he loves.
all photos by John Gary Brown
Black Box Theater
Previews Sept 28-30
Show Runs Oct 2-28
Friday, Oct 12 after 7:30 p.m. show
Wednesday, Oct 17 after 1:00 p.m. show
Times & Pricing:
Previews Fri, Sat & Sun at 7:30 p.m.; $25
Fri & Sat, 7:30 p.m. and Sat & Sun, 2:00 p.m.; prime $48, value $42
Tues, Wed, Thu, 7:30 p.m. and Wed, 1:00 p.m.; prime $43, value $38
"Levity rules... * * * out of 4 stars" ~ Denver Post, 10/4/2012
"This production of Twain and (David) Ives’ script hammers this point home wrapped in very funny comedy. Many of us in Denver do not often get a chance to see Creede Repertory’s work, so this is a good opportunity to check it out." ~ North Denver Tribune, 10/4/2012
Juliet Wittman of Westword says, "this production will take off like an express train — and you really don't want to miss the laughs."
"you do not want to miss the curtain call that will have you on the floor in laughter and then on your feet in applause!" ~ Michael Mulhern, Broadway World, 10/15/12012
Is He Dead? Dramaturgy
For select shows, Creede Repertory Theatre will offer a pre-show dramaturgy explaining the origins and transformation of Mark Twain's script.
Previews: Sept 28 - 30 at 7:30 p.m.
Closing weekend: Oct 25 - 27 at 7:30; Sun Oct 28 at 2:00 p.m.
House opens at 6:50 p.m. (Sunday 10/28 at 1:20 p.m.)
Talks start at 7:00 p.m. (Sunday 10/28 at 1:30 p.m.)
Talks will last about 15 minutes and other arriving folks can be seated during the talks.
The Collaboration of the Century
Mark Twain wrote Is He Dead? during one of the most difficult periods of his life. His eldest daughter’s sudden death in 1896 began a two-year period of pain, struggle and failure. His mourning spiraled into a deep depression as his situation grew more desolate. In the two years following his daughter’s death, Twain’s brother and a close family friend died while he was in Italy trying to escape the pressure of his ever-growing debt. In the heart of his depression and frustration, Twain wrote prolifically but without success. Between 1896 and 1898 he began more than thirty writing projects, including plays, novels, short stories, and translations, only to abandon most of them. He lost his joy of writing as each project became a way to make the money he so desperately needed.
But Is He Dead? changed all that. This play project began with the New Year of 1899, when money from sales of previously published books began to pay down Twain’s debt. The pain of his losses began to ease, and he saw the glimmer of hope he needed to find “the funny” again. By writing about the struggles of the last two years in a comedic form, he was able to put them behind him and rediscover his passion and purpose for writing.
While Is He Dead? gave Twain a way to purge his pain and move on, it did not have the financial or critical success Twain had hoped for during his lifetime. It didn’t see publication or production for more than 100 years because, despite Twain’s best efforts, he was not an expert in writing for the theatre. Twain’s one previously successfully produced play, Colonel Sellers, was wildly popular with the masses, but theatre critics, and Twain himself, criticized the script’s weak plot. Twain attempted several times to write another play that would repeat the financial success of Colonel Sellers with a stronger, more understandable plot. He collaborated with other writers to compensate for his weaknesses as a playwright, but none of them were able to translate his ideas and characters into a successful production. The few plays that were completed and performed became financial and critical failures in their own time and are considered boring by the few scholars who read them today.
Thankfully, Twain researcher Shelley Fisher Fishkin discovered the potential of Is He Dead? after wading through many incomplete and incoherent original manuscripts. When she opened this script, she expected another poorly-plotted, boring, humorless comedy, but was surprised to find herself laughing out-loud in the archives. Her publication and historical analysis of the play in 2003 was the first public attention given to Is He Dead?. But Fishkin knew the script needed more than publication; she had to help this play make it to the stage. David Ives, a precise and polished twenty-first century playwright, has proven to be Twain’s ideal theatrical collaborator. Ives distills Twain’s lengthy theatrical ruminations down to a script with a manageable length and cast size, making production more practical. He tightens the plot making one action lead directly to the next, thereby creating a sense of momentum that Twain was not able to achieve. Ives’ work takes all the best elements of Twain’s original play and condenses them into tidy, producible, farcical comedy.
Through this collaboration separated by a century, we are able to see how Twain takes fear and helplessness and translates them into a comedy overflowing with colorful characters and playful problem-solving. These two masterful storytellers weave for us a tale in which debt and death become powerless in the face of humor.
Want to learn more? Check out our Pre-Show Talks and Chat Backs, or read Is He Dead?: A Comedy in Three Acts, edited by Shelly Fisher Fishkin, the source for the information in this essay.