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Ever the Twain shall meet on Broadway

August 04, 2007|From the Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Mark Twain is a name not usually associated with Broadway, unless he is being portrayed by Hal Holbrook, the actor responsible for the one-man show "Mark Twain Tonight!"

But now a play by Twain called "Is He Dead?" -- adapted by David Ives -- will receive its world premiere Nov. 29 on Broadway, producers Bob Boyett, Roger Berlind and Daryl Roth announced this week. Preview performances begin Nov. 8 at the Lyceum Theatre.

"Is He Dead?" was written by Twain in 1898 but was never performed. It was rediscovered in 2002 by Twain scholar Shelley Fisher Fishkin, an English professor and director of the American Studies Program at Stanford University. It was published the following year by the University of California Press.

The plot concerns a group of starving artists who stage the death of their mentor in an effort to increase the value of his work.

"Is He Dead?" is "set in France in the 1840s and centers on the French painter Jean-Francois Millet, who probably was the most beloved European painter in the United States in Twain's lifetime," Fishkin said in a telephone interview. "Americans were absolutely obsessed with him, in part because he focused on the dignity of the common man and the common woman. . . . I think Twain identified with Millet's respect for ordinary people."

The Broadway production will star Norbert Leo Butz, a Tony winner for his performance in the musical "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels."

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