Is He Dead?

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Is He Dead?
Written by Mark Twain
Characters (In order of appearance)

Agamemnon Buckner ("Chicago")
Hans von Bismarck ("Dutchy")
Papa Leroux
Marie Leroux
Cecile Leroux
Jean-François Millet
Bastien André
Madame Bathilde
Madame Caron
Phelim O'Shaughnessy
Basil Thorpe
Claude Rivière

The King of France
Date premiered 9 December 2007
Original language English
Genre Comedy, Satire
Setting Paris and Barbizon, 1846

Is He Dead? is a play by Mark Twain. Written by Twain in 1898, It was first published in print in 2003,[1] after Mark Twain scholar Shelley Fisher Fishkin read the manuscript in the archives of the Mark Twain Papers at the University of California at Berkeley. The play was long known to scholars but never attracted much attention until Fishkin arranged to have it published in book form. She later played a primary role in getting the play produced on Broadway. Contemporary American Playwright, David Ives adapted the play for the modern stage before its inaugural performance in 2007.[2][3] Is He Dead? is now published and licensed for theatrical use by Playscripts, Inc.[4]

The play focuses on a fictional version of the great French painter Jean-François Millet as an impoverished artist in Barbizon, France who, with the help of his colleagues, stages his death in order to increase the value of his paintings, and afterwards dresses as a woman to keep his secret safe. Combining elements of burlesque, farce, and social satire, the comedy relies on such devices as cross-dressing, mistaken identities, and romantic deceptions to tell its story, which raises questions about fame, greed, and the value of art.


The play takes place in Paris, 1846. Jean-François Millet is a gifted painter, but has trouble selling his paintings. Because of this, he and his three friends/pupils Agamemnon "Chicago" Buckner, Hans "Dutchy" von Bismarck, and Phelim O'Shaughnessy are in debt to the evil picture dealer Bastien Andre. Also in debt to Andre is Papa Leroux, father of Millet's girlfriend Marie and Cecile, who has a love-hate relationship with Chicago. Andre arrives at Millet's apartment to collect both debts. Millet points out that their contract states that Andre can take Millet's paintings for 100 francs each to pay off the debt, but Andre (who is also in love with Marie and wants to ruin Millet) refuses on the grounds that he is free to take the paintings as he likes. Andre proceeds to remind Leroux that his payment is due tomorrow, unless Marie agrees to marry him. When Leroux refuses to force his daughter to marry Andre, Andre angrily leaves. Soon after, Millet's land ladies Mdme. Bathilde and Mdme. Caron arrive and Millet pays them in rent in paintings (they do not mind because they love his work). The two take the Leroux family for dinner while Millet and his friends try to sell his paintings at an auction. Only one person arrives, a ditzy man named Thorpe, who, despite liking Millet's paintings, refuses to buy any because Millet is not dead. When he leaves, Dutchy bemoans that when the world has a master, he is not recognized and rich until long after he's dead. This gives Chicago an idea: Millet can fake his death which will result in the demand and prices for his paintings increasing, thereby giving the group enough money to pay off Andre. In order to prevent Millet from being caught, they'll disguise him as his fictional twin sister "Daisy Tillou", a widow. Millet is against this plan, but the other three proceed with it.

The next day, Dutchy and O'Shaughnessy are driving up the prices of Millet's paintings, while Chicago has leaked to the press that Millet has come down with a terminal disease and has gone to the Barbary Coast to live out his remaining days. (This becomes a running gag as whenever a character asks where the Barbary Coast is, no one can answer.) Millet comes out dressed as the Widow and complains about his costume but Chicago assures him the plan will work (even though the Widow has trouble acting like a woman.) Indeed, everyone is overjoyed when Thorpe comes back to buy some paintings and buys three paintings (two of which aren't even Millet's) for 100,000 francs, instantly freeing them of their debt. The Widow is then forced to have tea with Mdme. Bathilde and Mdme. Caron alone, but fortunately they take her strange behavior as signs of grief over her brother's death. The Leroux family arrives to wait for Andre. Cecile becomes suspicious with the way the Widow and Chicago interact with each other while Marie is depressed over Millet. Andre arrives and the Widow hands him two checks to pay off the debts and stands up against his cruel behavior. Unfortunately, Andre declares that since now the paintings are worth far more than the checks, he will take them instead. When the Widow asks if there is anything she can do to stop him, he says he will not do it if the Widow marries him! The Widow faints into Dutchy and O'Shaughnessy's arms as the act ends.

Act 2 begins months later in the Widow's new luxurious apartment in downtown Paris. Everyone is now rich because of the value of the paintings and the Widow has a butler named Charlie. Millet has since been declared dead and today is the day of Millet's funeral. Andre has continued attempting to court the Widow and Papa Leroux has even become smitten with "her" and proposes while they are alone. The Widow struggles to keep him at bay, when Inspector Lefoux (actually Cecile in disguise) comes to question the Widow over Millet's death and her relationship with Chicago. To keep the two at bay, the Widow admits Chicago is her lover. When Charlie announces more visitors, the Widow has them wait in separate rooms. Mdme. Bathilde and Mdme. Caron arrive with Marie, grieving over Millet's "death". The Widow talks to Marie alone, while the other two wait with Leroux in another room. Marie tells the Widow that Andre truly loves "her" and "she" should marry him. Andre then arrives and tells the Widow the second she says yes to marriage, the contract is destroyed. Once he is gone, Chicago, Dutchy, and O'Shaughnessy arrive with Millet's casket (which is closed and filled with bricks). The trio are excited by the stir Millet's death has caused: prices are higher than ever and the King of France is even attending the funeral. As they celebrate, Marie comes back and shames them. As Marie and the Widow continue talking, Marie says she will never marry and then the Widow gets an idea.

The Widow reveals the disguise and tells an overjoyed Marie to tell Andre to come at 6:00. Suddenly, O'Shaughnessy comes in panicking. The King of France and other royals have come to view the remains. Chicago, for once is out of ideas, and Dutchy invites the royals in to view the body. The coffin is opened and they are all blown back by the terrible smell (Dutchy filled the coffin with limburger cheese in case someone wanted to look). As they leave, the friends celebrate as Lefoux comes back and questions Chicago. He sees through the disguise and tells "Lefoux" that he is in love with Cecile. The two embrace and go off into another room where Chicago explains everything. Just before Andre arrives, the Widow takes Dutchy and O'Shaughnessy into another room and tells them the Widow's plan. Alone, Andre reveals he lied to Marie and only wants to marry the widow for her money. Knowing he is in the room, the trio stage a conversation and actions that make it seem as though the Widow has ceramic body parts and false hair. Andre, disgusted, tears up the contract and runs off as the Widow chases him. Dutchy and O'Shaughnessy are left alone with Charlie who reveals that he is actually Inspector Gaston of the Paris Police. He brings everyone except the Widow and Andre into the room where he exposes Millet's remains as bricks and that Lefoux is actually Cecile (there actually is a real Inspector Lefoux who is on vacation). Leroux reveals that instead of the Widow, he will marry either Bathilde or Caron. Gaston is about to send everyone to prison when Millet comes into the room dressed in his normal clothes. He tells Gaston that he was at the Barbary Coast on a break and came back to find his funeral going on. When Gaston tells him his sister stated he was dead, Millet tells him he has no sister. Everyone is overjoyed at Millet's return and Gaston leaves to find "the Widow". Millet and Marie are reunited and will be wed, along with Leroux and one of the ladies and Cecile and Chicago. Chicago reminds Millet that the entire country thinks he is dead, but Millet assured him that France will not admit she was wrong and that now he is a celebrity. Millet proposes a toast to the groups benefactor: the Widow Daisy Tillou.

World Premiere

Adapted by David Ives, a former Guggenheim Foundation Fellow in playwriting, and directed by Michael Blakemore, Is He Dead? had its world premiere at the Lyceum Theatre. Martin Pakledinaz designed costumes. The Broadway production began previews on November 8 and was set to open on November 29, 2007, but due to the 2007 Broadway stagehand strike, it was postponed to December 9, 2007.

It received favorable reviews in the New York Times[5] and Variety,[6] but closed on March 9, 2008, after 105 performances.[7]



  1. "Is He Dead? A comedy in three acts". Retrieved 2007-08-01.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Playscripts Inc. - "Is He Dead?" adapted by David Ives". Retrieved 2013-04-02.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Playscripts, Inc. - Production History - "Is He Dead?" adapted by David Ives".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Brantley, Ben (December 10, 2007). "It's Not Life on the Mississippi, Jean-François Honey". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-03-12.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Rooney, David (December 9, 2007). "Variety Review: Is He Dead?". Retrieved 2008-03-12.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Broadway's Is He Dead? Ends Run at Broadway's Lyceum March 9; Macbeth to Follow". Retrieved 2008-03-12.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Pittu, Jennings, McGrath, Gambatese Will Ask, Is He Dead? on Broadway". Retrieved 2007-09-04.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Rooney, David (December 9, 2007). "Is He Dead?". Variety.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

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