SJU Theater Company to Present Mark Twain's "Is He Dead?"

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The SJU Theatre Company will be the first college or professional group in Philadelphia to present Is He Dead?, a comedy recently rediscovered from the archives of legendary American humorist Mark Twain. The show runs in Bluett Theatre for only one week, Wednesday, April 18 through Sunday April 22.

The play was originally written in 1898 but never performed or published until 2003, when Shelley Fischer Fishkin published a critical edition of Twain's Manuscript after coming across it in archives at The University of California, Berkeley. She then collaborated with David Ives, who adapted it for production. The comedy opened on Broadway in 2007.

“When people think of Mark Twain they usually think of Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, or other familiar works," said Laura Pattillo, assistant professor of English and the show’s director. "But this is a Mark Twain work most people haven't encountered, and in a genre we don't typically associate with him."”

Is He Dead? is a satire about the art world and the idea that once the artist is dead their work can then be considered valuable. The comedy takes place in Paris, 1846, focusing on the French painter Jean-Francois Millet and his group of friends who are all struggling artists. They devise a scheme to fake Millet’s death in order to increase the worth of his paintings and to settle their debts with a villainous art dealer, and their plan turns out to be a success. Once Millet’s "death" is public, his paintings instantly increase in worth. However, in order to gain the benefits of his new income, Millet must disguise himself as his widowed identical twin sister, and from there the humor ensues.

“It's very funny to see the other male painters in Millet's circle, who are the only ones in on his secret, trying to coach him on how to be a lady," Pattillo says. "They are trying to teach him how to sit, move, and behave like a lady, yet none of them are ladies, and they don’t actually know what they’re doing.”

Pattillo adds, “It’s really funny; it’s something people of all ages can enjoy. There’s everything from stinky cheese jokes to sophisticated puns. There’s a little something for everybody in its humor.”

The show run Wednesday, April 18 to Saturday, April 21 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, April 22 at 2 p.m. in Bluett Theatre, Post Hall, on Overbrook Ave. near 56th St. Tickets are $18 for general admission, $10 for SJU students, faculty, staff, senior citizens, and children under 12. To reserve tickets, call 610-660-1181. For more information on the show or SJU Theatre Company, visit

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