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See you in 2011!!

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Broadway Review: Isn't He Dead?

Our guest today is Kate Skinner, writing about something she knows very well—the theater. Kate has performed in over 60 plays on Broadway, off Broadway, and in leading regional theatres. She has also appeared on a variety of television shows and in a few films. Her enthusiasm in this piece makes me want to be with her at the theater! Welcome Kate!

MARK TWAIN ADAPTATION WINS STAMP OF APPROVAL – FUN AND GAMES AT THE LYCEUM!

I didn’t know what to expect from Mark Twain’s only known play Isn’t He Dead? currently at the Lyceum Theatre. But when an out-of-town friend listed it in her e-mail as something she wanted to see on her next visit to New York City, I agreed to arrange for tickets. Now it is always a pleasure to see a play at the Lyceum, which has one of the most beautiful interiors on Broadway—but that is not the only feast for the eyes currently on view at the Lyceum. Isn’t He Dead? is a confection of hilarity that takes you on an absolutely enchanting two-hour ride!

The play written by Twain in 1898 was never performed and it has been adapted by David Ives. Though he must have been daunted by the prospect of tinkering with that American master, he proves himself very worthy indeed. The show revolves around a group of starving artists in Paris in the 1840s whose ringleader and hero is Jean-Francois Millet. He was the most beloved European painter during Twain’s lifetime and his astonishing work speaks for itself in the many, many reproductions that decorate the first act set. At the beginning of the play, Millet is in debt and unable to sell his work so his friends convince him to play dead to drive up the price of his paintings. This means he must go into hiding, which consists of him pretending to be his own sister.

Cross dressing is almost always devised for comic effect and Isn’t He Dead? is no exception. Though a time-proven devise, in the hands of its leading actor, Norbert Leo Butz, it becomes supremely and hilariously unique. Mr. Butz won a raft of awards for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, but I had never been privileged to see him on stage. And to behold him in this is to see one of the great “clown” performances of all time. He performs in the tradition of those great comic masters Zero Mostel and Jackie Gleason. Mr. Butz is considerably more lithe than either of those two giants but he shares in his own unique way the fearlessness of those comedic geniuses. I am sure acting with him is a challenge in the best sense of the word and, happily for the audience, the entire cast is up to it—each having their own fine comic moments.

From Michael Blakemore’s seamless direction to the brilliant costumes of Martin Pakledinaz (who never disappoints) and the sets of Peter Davison (which include a garret and a Paris salon) this production is as impeccable as it is delicious. When you aren’t laughing uproariously or unexpectedly, you will have a smile continually on your face at the infectious joy emanating from the stage of the Lyceum. I am positive Mr. Twain would be proud of this production. And it is theatre for everyone from 8 to 80, so spread the word to family and friends—for a good time head to the Lyceum Theatre on 45th Street to see Isn’t He Dead?

Kate Skinner has a new Law & Order episode to air soon and just wrapped up playing James Gandolfini’s sometime squeeze in a new film Kiddie Ride. She lives in New York City with her husband, author/actor Ron McLarty.

2 comments:

ClaireWalter said...

Speaking of Mark Twain, Hal Holbrook is coming to Denver to give one perfomance of his classic one-man show, "Mark Twain Tonight" on March 1. I've seen it two or three times -- once or twice in New York and once on a previous engagement in Denver. This signature role is a real classic and worth seeing if you haven't.

Linda Rae said...

I'm forwarding this to our grandson, Christopher Robin, who loves all things theatre. He's a senior in the IB program at GWHS and is working on drama scholarships for next year. I'm sure he'll find this of interest