Greenbrier Valley Theatre will kick-off its 47th season with the Mark Twain farce Is He Dead?
Set in 1840s France, Is He Dead? tells the story of struggling artist Jean-François Millet, who knows his art is worth something, he’s just not receiving any money from it. To rectify this situation, he and his students hatch a half-baked plan to fake Millet’s death— everyone knows artists are only famous after they are dead. Millet, now famous and extremely wealthy, but living life as his own fake twin sister, must face a new set of complications— including heels, petticoats and unwanted suitors.
This farce, written by great American novelist Mark Twain remained virtually unknown to the public until longtime Twain scholar Shelley Fisher Fishkin discovered the manuscript tucked away in the Mark Twain Papers archives at the University of California at Berkeley. After publishing the manuscript in 2003, Fishkin, who believed Twain’s play had great potential but needed polishing, teamed up with longtime comedic playwright David Ives – Venus In Fur, All In The Timing– to adapt Twain’s work. Twain’s original production consisted of three acts. Ives condensed the play to two acts, eliminated more than 15 characters, and incorporated additional scenes and put Twain’s characters in hilariously impossible situations. Ives’ comedic touch was exactly what Is He Dead? needed. The result of this collaboration led to a 2007 Broadway production that ran for 105 performances.
Part of the reason GVT’s Artistic Director, Cathey Sawyer, chose the play is because it is sure to keep audiences laughing. Sawyer explained that, after a harsh winter, it’s nice to start off the GVT season with a comedy. However, while she knows that audiences will be entertained, she hopes they will also be reminded of Millet’s real work as an artist.
Millet, an actual Realist and Naturalist artist in the 1840s, painted many famous works including The Sower and The Angelus, both of which are among the paintings featured in Is He Dead?. Though the actual Millet never faked his death, Twain uses the character and his situation to question the power art buyers and critics hold in the art world. In fact, the central themes are still relevant today, as people worldwide continue to ask: “What is art?” and “Who decides the value of art?”
To help Millet leap from the page to the stage, GVT is bringing veteran actor Peter Herrick back to Lewisburg. First seen as Charlie in the 2013 production of The Foreigner, Herrick is excited to be part of the Lewisburg community again. Herrick and the rest of the cast have been rehearsing since mid-March, but have been researching the world of the play since before their arrival.
Though Is He Dead? is an adaptation, Herrick, who plays both Millet and his fake twin sister Daisy Tillou, feels that audiences will be able to recognize Twain’s work.
“There are some lines I hear his voice in…,” said Herrick. Twain’s signature way with words is noticeable throughout the play, especially when Millet (dressed as Tillou) is complaining about his new wardrobe, “These awkward clothes have got me cantilevered all out of creation!” (Act I, scene ii).
The two-act comedy can be seen April 11 and 12, 17 – 19 and 24 – 26 at 7:30 p.m. There will also be a matinee performance on April 19 at 3 p.m. As always, a Pay-What-You-Can preview performance will be held at 7:30 p.m. April 10, the evening before the production opens.
Tickets are $26 for adults, $23 for seniors and $20 for children. For tickets or more information, call the GVT Box Office at 304-645-3838.
About Greenbrier Valley Theatre:
Located in beautiful, historic downtown Lewisburg, “America’s Coolest Small Town,” Greenbrier Valley Theatre, The State Professional Theatre of West Virginia, is committed to its mission statement to create live, professional quality theatre in West Virginia and, through theatre, to enlighten, enrich, and enliven the life of our region.