Reading a play instead of watching it is like eating a beef burrito without any salsa, guacamole or onions. You get the meat of the thing, but it lacks all talent.
Testing this recipe is easy. Have your teen read Shakespeare’s “Henry V.” Next, watch Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 film adaptation of the same play. Then stuff those food missiles with diced onions, smear them with guacamole, dip them in salsa, and offer them when your child asks for a second run at Branagh’s film.
Tragedy, comedy, farce, and all other plays are not novels written as dialogues between the author, the reader, and the imagination. Theater is a collaborative production aimed at the stage. Director, actors, costume and makeup crew, sets: These are the people and things that bring life, color and magic to a playwright’s script. Shakespeare’s monologues, speeches, and dialogues are works of genius, but he wrote them to be performed before his live audience.
It was just such an audience that one of America’s greatest writers hoped to reach, sitting in a theater and mesmerized by an actor’s performance on stage. And many times he failed to achieve that ambition.
love and despair
Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835–1910), better known as Mark Twain, had a love of theater as a boy when he attended minstrel shows in his hometown of Hannibal, Missouri. As an adult, he participated in plays whenever possible, sometimes writing reviews of them for various papers. After gaining fame in
But the man revered by critics and readers as the father of American literature never came to prominence as a playwright. Despite his many attempts, this master of fiction and essays could not ignite the stage footlights. One play, “Colonel Sellers,” proved financially lucrative, but Twain was never satisfied with the production, agreeing with his critics that it was “miserable.” It seemed to be doing
Then, in the winter of 1898, Twain wrote a comedy that he believed could be “produced simultaneously in London and New York.”
another shot on stage
“Is He Dead? A Comedy in Three Acts” is the name Twain gave to this work of farce and satire. Twain researcher Sherry Fisher-Fishkin, in his 2003 book of the same name, provides both the play’s script and valuable commentary and notes. In her “Preface” she writes about Twain and his family living in Vienna in his 1898. Bankrupt after some ill-advised investments and still mourning the death of his 24-year-old daughter Susie in 1896, Twain wrote, “Is He Dead,” after a dismal autumn in the city. ?” began to be written. The immeasurable spirit as soon as my day started.
Before tackling Fishkin’s lengthy Afterword, those who, like me, read only the play, will examine it in the context of the 1890s, discussing why it was never performed and its relevance to our own times. Consider. You might exit the script without being impressed. Briefly, the storyline involves artists and other groups who are in debt to Bastien André, a “painter and usurer”. When André threatens to ruin everything for failing to pay, Agamemnon Buckner, a young artist who goes by the nickname “Chicago”, hatches a plan to save his friend. He persuaded the artist and teacher Jean-François Millet to fake his own death, a figure based very loosely on real-life painters in works such as “Angelas”. and by that time the prices of his paintings had skyrocketed. André fails in all his plans, and Millet’s name becomes a household word throughout France.
Print: negatives and positives
To many who read this print edition, the play, even in its own time, will seem unremarkable, awkward, and stilted. Do: Pretend to be Millet, a feigned death, a heartless villain who is put out only for money, a young woman torn between true love and saving her family out of poverty by marrying that villain. Transvestite becomes his own non-existent twin sister. There is humor in the dialogue, but when read on the page, this brings at best the occasional chuckle. I have been sent to his “Representatives” list many times.
In an online review on TwainWeb.net that I read after finishing the script, Mark Dawidziak made a similar negative critique. Yet he also points to the value of this text, which was first made available to the public through Fishkin’s efforts. “Is he dead?” is, after all, by the American masters and contains examples of Twain’s trademark humor and style. It’s a complete piece, and people don’t hit the streets every day at noon.”
“The play matters,” says Hamlet, and in the case of “Is He Dead?” those words are true.
As I said earlier, words that look boring or clunky in a script can come to life on stage with a good director and vibrant actors. It’s the winter of 2007, almost five years after Fishkin’s book Is He Dead? It finally found the audience its authors dreamed of over a century ago: “Is He Dead?”
Ben Brantley, in his review of the New York Times play Not Life on the Mississippi, Jean-François Honey, described Twain’s play as “written in 1898, worn by a starving French painter.” A silly and formulaic farce of being forced,” he first describes. women’s clothing. “
Then he quickly said, “But with the right doctor, even a long-buried dinosaur can be made to dance. It includes an infectiously happy cast led by Michael Blakemore, playwright David Ives (adapting Twain’s script), and the wonderful Norbert Leo Butts: a masterclass in making a meal out of a profiterole. It offers.
It’s this flashy, manic talent (Brantley lavishes praise on almost everyone on stage) and Twain’s tweaks to the script that “a joke you vowed never to laugh at will suddenly look funny.” Now,” he said.
Given that Mark Twain is trapped in that heaven of which he has often expressed suspicion, he must have had a good laugh that night, too.
Even without reading his books, most Americans can at least vaguely identify Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, and Becky Thatcher. You have some knowledge, even if vague or confused, of the plot of the book in which it appears. But we can safely assume that the same will never be said about “Is He Dead?”
Yet the play maintains a place, albeit minor, in our literature. They may also remember that composing this piece breathed new life into Twain’s dying work. In the years leading up to his death, he wrote more short stories and essays and gave many of his memorable and witty speeches.
Finally, the play presents a different picture of Twain in old age than is generally accepted: a cynic disillusioned with humanity. As representative of this point of view, which Twain’s later writings actually reinforce, Fishkin quotes Bernard Devote. Evil. “
Yet, as Fishkin rightly observes, the artist portrayed in “Is He Dead?” is “witty, boldly original, generous, and virtuous.” The play and its characters give us “a world where imagination, impudence, and collective action trump malice and abusive force.”
Somewhere in the man from Hannibal there was a faint flicker of faith in humanity.