This archived article was written by: Hannah Coleman
Utah State University Eastern Theatre opens its theatre season with “Is He Dead?” a farce written by Mark Twain and adapted by David Ives.
According to the University of California press, Is He Dead? was “written in 1898 in Vienna as Twain emerged from one of the deepest depressions of his life. The play shows its author’s superb gift for humor operating at its most energetic.”
Variety called the play, “a ripely enjoyable confection! An elaborate madcap comedy that registers high on the mirth meter and reaches especially giddy comic heights!” The Wall Street Journal reported that it was, “Shriekingly funny-I don’t know when I’ve heard a New York audience laugh louder or longer.”
The play tells the story of an aspiring artist, Jean-François Millet, a genius, living in Paris. He is in love with Marie Leroux but in debt to a villainous picture-dealer, Bastien André. André forecloses on the young artist, threatening debtor’s prison unless Marie marries him. Millet realizes that the only way he can pay his debts and keep Marie from marrying André is to die, as it is only dead painters who achieve fame and fortune. Thus, Millet fakes his death and prospers, all the while passing himself off as his own sister, the Widow Tillou. Now a rich “widow” he must find a way to get out of his dress, return to life, and marry Marie.
Is He Dead? is directed by Jarom Christopher Brown who directed last year’s “Hamlet.” He has a great group of freshmen to choose from as well as returning sophomores. The cast boasts eleven roles giving ample opportunity to students to shine.
Brown comes from Riverton to direct shows for Eastern. He is excited to have such a quick-paced show from Mark Twain. He feels most of Twain’s work is melancholy and slow, so it is a fun opportunity to see a different style.
The cross-dressing that takes place between several characters is something Brown is looking forward to sharing with audiences. The show has had many ups and downs to overcome, but Brown believes connecting with the characters has been the most challenging obstacle.
Stage Manager Marki Kazebee has enjoyed working with the cast. Several actors are freshmen and she feels they bring a certain refreshing quality to the set. Tech Director Brent Innes is thrilled to see everything come together. Innes is not worried about having such a fresh group. He says they are working hard and want to be on stage, so there is plenty of energy. He encourages everyone to come out: “this is going to be a good show.”