Mark Twain would probably appreciate the adaptation of his play Is He Dead? if he also knew that the man who modified the piece was once named one of the “100 Smartest New Yorkers” by New York magazine. He’d see it as befitting that David Ives took quick advantage when the previously undiscovered play was published for the first time in 2006 (by the University of California Press) and worked his own adept word-magic to bring it to the contemporary stage. A prolific and award-winning playwright, Ives has taken the liberty of augmenting the farce by trimming it down (this version has fewer characters and locations) and creating a few scenes that weren’t in the original.
Set in the 19th century, the play concerns the great French painter Jean Francois Millet, an impoverished artist living in Barbizon, France. In order to get out of debt and realize a higher price for his work, he fakes his own death to magnify his fame. With the help of friends, he dresses as a woman – his “sister” – to keep his secret safe, as his paintings increase in value. Meanwhile, romantic deceptions ensue, along with dialogue that poses questions about fame, greed and the intrinsic value of art. Intermingling elements of comedic burlesque and social satire, the play takes aim at the art world and at the sometimes-hilarious human foibles conducted therein.
Half Moon Theatre’s upcoming production of Is He Dead? will be staged at the Cunneen-Hackett Arts Center in Poughkeepsie this month, with the company’s director Paul Kassel (also associate dean of the Theatre Arts Department at SUNY-New Paltz) directing a cast that includes Geoff Tarson as Jean-Francois Millet (and in disguise as his twin sister Widow Daisy Tillou); Darrell James as Bastien Andre, the villainous art dealer; Ryan Katzer as Chicago; George Conrad as Dutchy; Michael Frohnhoefer as O’Shaughnessy; Nicole Carroll as Marie Leroux; Stanley Beadle as Papa Leroux; Diana Stahl as Cecile Leroux; Amy Lemon Olson as Madame Bathilde; Barbara Rankin as Madame Caron; and Frank Trezza multitasking as Basil Thorpe/Claude Riviere/Charlie/the King of France.
Although Kassel didn’t see the show when it played on Broadway in 2007, he says that it sounded like “his cup of tea” and was eager to produce it with Half Moon Theatre. “In the firm tradition of these kinds of farcical plays, its classical construction includes perfectly timed entries and exits, people running into each other – but it’s very precise, clean, not chaotic. It’s important to tell a good story, and this was adapted by a very smart playwright. Kids will love it! Everyone can enjoy it!”
Is He Dead? will be staged 11 times between November 10 and November 26, with Thursday, Friday and Saturday shows starting at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Tickets for evening shows cost $25 general admission, $22 for seniors and students. Matinee tickets are $20 and $18. “Pay What You Can Night” is Thursday, November 10: a preview performance priced for folks to come and pay whatever they can afford. These tickets are only available at the door. Otherwise, tickets can be purchased online at www.halfmoontheatre.org or by calling (888) 71-TICKETS.