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Mark Twain's Long-Lost Play "Is He Dead?" Comes to Springfield

Is He Dead
Credit: http://www.springfieldcontemporarytheatre.org/

The Springfield Art Museum is hosting Mark Twain’s zany and over-the-top play “Is he Dead?” starting on August 23. The play, complete with cross-dressing and a faked death, brings to life Mark Twain’s famous humor, as KSMU’s Julie Greene reports.

“Mark Twain’s humor translates well because he understood human nature so intensely, and much of his humor is based on the way that humans react so it’s very natural. It’s not a forced humor.”

That’s Henry Sweets, the executive director of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum in Hannibal, Missouri.

“Is He Dead” is a fictional account of real-life artist, Jean-François Millet. As a poor painter, Millet is indebted to an evil picture-dealer. With the threat of debtor’s prison lingering in his future, Millet decides the best way to pay off his debts is to fake his own death because painters only prosper after they’ve died. After pretending to be his sister in order to gain access to his estate, he eventually becomes rich. 

According to Sweets, one example of Twain’s humor in this play comes when they’re about to bury the coffin.

“The people bringing it back realize that somebody might get curious about what’s inside the coffin so they put some limburger cheese inside the coffin. And indeed, they decide that they want to make sure that it’s him in the coffin, and when they open the lid and that odor comes out, they quickly close it back up.”

After a few major setbacks including a warehouse fire, Twain set the play aside, and it remained largely untouched for over a century until noted Mark Twain scholar Dr. Shelley Fisher Fishkin read it, published it and then famous contemporary American playwright, David Ives, adapted the play to fit the Broadway stage. The play first hit the stage on December 9, 2007, and now, five and a half years after its premiere, Springfield welcomes the play to town.

For more information on show times and ticket prices, visit  www.springfieldcontemporarytheatre.org.

For KSMU news, I’m Julie Greene.