Redlands Footlighters is always looking for new plays to present to their audience and their next production, Is He Dead?, fits that bill. While first produced for Broadway in 2007, the comedy was actually written more than a hundred years ago by much-beloved humorist Mark Twain.
Well known for his stories, Twain wrote his only play, Is He Dead?, in 1898 after finding himself bankrupt and owing to several creditors. He traveled to Europe to earn money lecturing, during which time his youngest daughter died suddenly. Twain used his dealings with creditors and death to write a truly entertaining comedy about France’s Jean-Francois Millet, whose use of and respect for ordinary people in his work mirrored Twain’s own style.
The play was to be produced in New York and London at the same time, but due to bad luck, the play was not produced in either city and was, unfortunately, forgotten about.
In 2002, Dr. Shelley Fisher Fishkin of Stanford University was reading the Mark Twain Papers at UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library and found Is He Dead?. Surprised that such a play had been lost, Dr. Fishkin arranged for the University of California Press to publish Twain’s play in 2003 along with an afterword to help explain nuances of the play.
Dr. Fishkin contacted a producer about taking Is He Dead? to Broadway. Because staging the play exactly as Twain wrote it in 1898 posed too problematic, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Ives was brought in to adapt the play for modern audiences. Maintaining Twain’s wit proved a challenge as Ives trimmed the three-act play down to two, eliminated 18 characters and some plot elements, and staged some scenes Twain had left offstage completely.
In this now critically acclaimed play, poor but talented painter Jean-Francois Millet owes a great sum of money to Bastien, a terrible creditor. Bastien is in love with Millet’s girlfriend, Marie, and threatens to send Millet to debtors’ prison unless Marie marries him. Realizing that painters do not ever achieve fame and fortune until they are dead, Millet hatches a plan to fake his death thereby saving Marie and avoiding jail. After faking his death, Millet comes back as his supposed sister and must find a way to marry Marie and return to life.
Taking on the task of bringing the delightful though unfamiliar play to the Footlighters in Carol Damgen. While this is Damgen’s first time directing at the Footlighters, she brings plenty of experience as she is a fulltime Theatre Arts faculty member at California State University, San Bernardino, and a member of the Dramatist Guild.
Damgen has assembled a very talented cast. Footlighters patrons will see a few returning faces and many new actors from all around the Inland Empire: JD Wiese, Brady Greer Huffman, Arianna La Marca, Bill Becker, Emily Minor, Dennis Johnston, Richard Rogers, Mike Detrow, Triko Bronjio, Jennifer Celise, Chuck Baugh, and Colleen Wilcox.
Is He Dead? runs from March 6 to March 23. A reception where the audience can meet the cast will immediately follow the opening performance on March 6. Evening performances begin at 8:00 p.m, and Sunday matinees start at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $15. For reservations, please call 909-793-2909.