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David Ives’ Adaptation of Mark Twain’s Satire “Is He Dead?” Has Been Described as “La Bohème” Meets “Tootsie”

"Is He Dead?" opens Oct. 22nd

"Is He Dead?" opens Oct. 22nd

The second show of Deep Dish Theater Company’s 10th anniversary season is Is He Dead? — South Chicago-born contemporary American playwright David Ives’ two-act comedy adapted from a posthumously published three-act play written in Vienna in 1898 by Mark Twain (nee Samuel Langhorne Clemens, 1835-1910) — on Oct. 22-24 and 27-31 and Nov. 3-7 and 10-13 in the Deep Dish’s performance space beside Branching Out at the Dillard’s end of University Mall in Chapel Hill, NC.

Is He Dead? made its Broadway debut, directed by Michael Blakemore, on Dec. 9, 2007 at the Lyceum Theatre, where it played for 105 performances before closing on March 9, 2008.

Deep Dish guest director Marc Williams recalls, “I first read Is He Dead? in late spring of this year, when I learned that Deep Dish Theater was going to produce it. I knew that the play had been produced on Broadway a few years ago, but didn’t know anything else about it. I loved the script and was excited that Deep Dish asked me to direct….

“Most importantly,” Williams adds, “the play is hilarious. It’s been described as La Bohème meets Tootsie, although I’d throw in a dash of ‘Fawlty Towers’ as well. But the play has a real heart. It is about artists and the value of art, so in this regard the play speaks to me personally.”

Director Marc Williams notes, “The plot [of Is He Dead?] centers around the real-life 19th century painter Jean-Francois Millet [1814-75] and his pupils. They are brilliantly talented painters, but they are unable to sell their work. Worse yet, they are deeply indebted to a tyrannical money lender who is on the verge of foreclosing on them. They realize that paintings are only valuable after the artist dies, so they devise a scheme to fake Millet’s death in order to drive up the prices of his works.

“While Millet is the central character,” adds Williams, “it is worth noting that the only details of Millet’s life that are historically accurate in the play are the titles of the paintings attributed to him.”

The Deep Dish Theater Company cast for Is He Dead? includes John Boni, Kit FitzSimons, Thom Gradisher, Lormarev Jones, Jon Karnofsky, Tracey Phillips, Steven Roten, Ros Schwartz, C. Delton Streeter, Sharleen Thomas, and Joyce Weiser.

In addition to director Marc Williams, the show’s creative team for Is He Dead? includes producer and Deep Dish Theater artistic director Paul Frellick, choreographer Lormarev Jones, technical director Mark Peelman, set designer Paul Stiller, lighting designer Doug Wood, costume designer Sue Sweezy, properties manager Devra Thomas, sound designer David Klionsky, and stage manager Lauren Tannenbaum.

“While the story is originally Mark Twain’s,” says Marc Williams, “the script we are performing was adapted by David Ives. Ives’ comedic language is famously challenging for actors and directors alike, and this play is no exception. For the design team, we had to capture the essence of 19th-century France from the perspective of the artists.”

Williams adds, “The set mirrors the play’s unusual combination of styles. The play begins as a melodrama, becomes a situation comedy, and eventually ends as a farce. The scenic world takes it cue from the script itself, shifting its style as the play itself shifts….

“The play’s shifting styles [also] has much to do with the characters’ economic circumstances,” explains director Marc Williams. “The costumes really help tell that story.”

Deep Dish Theater Company presents IS HE DEAD? at 8 p.m. Oct. 22 and 23; 2 p.m. Oct. 24; 7:30 p.m. Oct. 27 and 28 and Nov. 3, 4, 10 and 11; 8 p.m. Oct. 29 and 30 and Nov. 5, 6, 12, and 13; and 2 p.m. Oct. 31 and Nov. 7 in the space beside Branching Out at the Dillard’s end of University Mall, at the intersection of Estes Drive and U.S. 15-501, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27514.

TICKETS: $19 ($12 students and $17 seniors and educators), except all tickets $9 on “Cheap Dish Night” on Oct. 27th and a $2 discount for Wednesday and Thursday shows.

BOX OFFICE: 919/968-1515 or





NOTE 1: Dramaturg Karen Blansfield will give a pre-show talk at 7 p.m. on Oct. 29th, and there will be post-performance discussions on Oct. 31st and Nov. 4th (“Meet the Designers”).

NOTE 2: The Deep Dish Book Selection, THE INNOCENTS ABROAD, OR THE NEW PILGRIMS’ PROGRESS by Mark Twain, will be the subject of a FREE discussion, led by Dr. Evelyn Daniel, at 7 p.m. on Nov. 2nd at Flyleaf Books,752 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514. (For more information about this book, see and For more information about this Deep Dish Book Selection, click


The Play: (Internet Broadway Database).

The Playwright: (Internet Broadway Database) and (Internet Movie Database).


Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

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