Deep Dish Theater Company’s current production of Is He Dead?, a play originally written by Mark Twain but adapted and compressed by David Ives, is one of those plays that the audience desperately wants to like, but ultimately doesn’t. The story’s premise sounds like fun: a struggling French artist, Jean-Francois Millet (Steven Roten), and his foolish pals, the German Dutchy (Jon Karnofsky), the Irishman O’Shaughnessy (Kit FitzSimmons), and the American Chicago (C. Delton Streeter) cook up a scheme to make Millet an overnight sensation — and drive up the price of his heretofore unsellable paintings — by pretending that he is dead. The only catch is that in order to pull off the clever ruse, Millet must disguise himself as a woman, his nonexistent identical twin sister, Daisy Tillou.
Although the show ultimately falls flat, causing some patrons to leave during the intermission of Sunday’s performance, there are some nice things here. Subtle lighting changes by Doug Wood effectively highlight key moments in the show, such as monologues and important developments. And the super-impressive Act II set-change, orchestrated by scenic designer Paul Stiller, transforms Millet’s humble, drab abode into a believable mansion.
There are also some truly stellar performances in Is He Dead? Steven Roten, dressed in drag for much of the show, is hilarious and the main reason to keep watching as Is He Dead? pays diminishing comic dividends. Roten’s performance as Jean-Francois/Daisy is the only one who garnered any real audience interest during the Sunday matinee. The villainous laugh of Monsieur Andre (Thom Gradisher) induces giggles, and Ros Schwartz’s Basil and other minor characters impress with a variety of accents and personas. But even these redeeming qualities, however, can’t save this jumbled mess.
For starters, there are just way too many characters in David Ives’ version of Is He Dead? — certainly too many for Deep Dish’s small stage. At one point, 10 actors crowd the set. Many of these characters, such as the delightful but pointless landladies Mme. Bathilde (Sharlene Thomas) and Mme. Caron (Joyce Weiser), prove unnecessarily distracting. The three idiot pals mentioned above annoy endlessly. Delton Streeter’s Chicago comes on far too strong, and the other two fall into the background where they do nothing but take up space.
The second act benefits from less of the fools, and does have some truly shining moments, thanks to Roten. It just takes far too long to get there. When the end finally comes, things are wrapped up way too quickly; and the audience is left going, “Huh?” Although a valiant effort, this production of Is He Dead? doesn’t work and disappoints an audience used to great productions from Deep Dish Theater Company.
SECOND OPINION: Oct. 27th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2010/10/27/762025/winning-cast-energizes-twains.html.
Deep Dish Theater Company presents IS HE DEAD? at 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 between The Print Shop and the future home of the Public Library at the Dillard’s end of University Mall, at the intersection of Estes Dr. 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 http://www.etix.com/.
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 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Innocents_Abroad and http://etext.virginia.edu/railton/innocent/iahompag.html. For more information about this Deep Dish Book Selection, click http://www.deepdishtheater.org/news?n=57.)
The Play: http://ibdb.com/show.php?id=466221 (Internet Broadway Database).
The Playwright: http://ibdb.com/person.php?id=9621 (Internet Broadway Database) and http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0412328/ (Internet Movie Database).
To read all of Susie Potter’s Triangle Arts & Entertainment reviews online, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/susie-q/.