A long-lost Mark Twain play comes back to the fore in St. Louis Shakespeare’s 33rd season
For the past 32 seasons, St. Louis Shakespeare has presented Shakespeare plays and other classics. This season, the company’s 33rd, kicks off on Friday night with the non-Shakespearean production of “Is He Dead?”
The Paris-set play was originally written by Missouri’s own Mark Twain, lost for 100 years, and recently adapted by David Ives. Edward Coffield is directing the production for St. Louis Shakespeare featuring a cast of 10.
“The play was discovered in amongst his papers at the University of Santa Barbara,” Coffield told St. Louis on the Air contributor Steve Potter. “The script was found in 2003 or 2004 and the woman who found it had the good sense to reach out to David Ives and he adapted it. It had a Broadway run in 2007. St. Louisan Norbert Leo Butz played the lead.”
The comedic play focuses on a fictionalized version of the great French painter Jean-François Millet and his associates at the beginning of their careers. They are all in great debt to a villain who has taken paintings as collateral until the debt is paid. Millet determines his paintings would be worth more if he were dead and conspires to fake his own death. Shenanigans ensue from there.
“There’s a bit of a melodrama in this thing,” Coffield said.
The second part of the play involves Millet pretending to be his fake sister, adding an element of farce to the production.
The trickiest part about directing the play has been the timing, Coffield said.
“There’s an adage in theater: Louder, faster, funnier,” Coffield said. “I’ve found that isn’t always true, sometimes you have to slow the comedy down so the audience has a chance to react.”
“Is He Dead?” runs Aug. 4 - 13. After that, three more productions round out St. Louis Shakespeare’s season: “Titus Andronicus,” “Cardenio: Shakespeare’s Lost Play,” and Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.”
What: St. Louis Shakespeare Presents "Is He Dead?" by Mark Twain (adapted by David Ives)
When: Aug. 4 - 13
Where: Ivory Theatre, 7622 Michigan Ave., St. Louis
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