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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Sometime in 1898, American humorist Mark Twain tried his hand at writing a farce; not his specialty, he likely decided and set the writing aside.  His efforts lay unpublished until 2003 after Twain scholar Shelley Fisher Fishkin discovered the script in the author’s papers collected at U.C. Berkeley. By 2007, the play had been adapted by David Ives and had premiered on Broadway.

Mark Tumey, the director who brings Twain’s play to CCP, appeared in Twain’s Is He Dead? in Phoenix AZ recently and thought it fitting for a production here in central Indiana. And we are glad he did. His efforts (with assistant director Brent Wooldridge) have resulted in a delightful show, punctuated by many silly farcical moments and plenty of melodrama, as well.

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The villainous Bastien Andre (left, played by Larry Adams) and the widower Papa Leroux (right, Kevin Shadle) vie for the affections of Jean-Francois Millet’s “sister” (Jaime Johnson) in CCP’s production of “Is He Dead?”

Is He Dead? concerns the fictional plight of French painter Jean-Francois Millet (played with gusto by Jaime Johnson) unable to sell his finest work because, it seems, he is still alive. A group of friends (Matt Hartzburg, Adam Powell, and Kelly Keller) devise a plan whereby Millet will fake his death and reap the monetary rewards of his work as his paintings sell posthumously – albeit while impersonating his “sister”, a widow. The newly rich “lady” attracts an array of suitors, and much mayhem ensues. A far more complex sub-text is at work here – much too complex to convey in a few words. Be assured, the story is engaging – peppered with apt Twainian observations of politics, mankind, and the world of art. I do, however, catch a whiff of Charley’s Aunt in the plot structure, likely owed to how popular and successful that Brandon Thomas play was in the late 19th century.

The talented cast members throw themselves into their characterizations with just the right tone for the farcical/melodramatic nature of the piece. Besides Johnson’s thoroughly charming turn, there is the dastardly villain, Bastien Andre – played with maximum treachery by Larry Adams. Morgan Morton is perfect as Millet’s love interest, Marie Leroux, while Kevin Shadle expands his creativity as her father, Papa. Monya Wolf plays Papa’s other daughter, the jealous Cecile, with a polished portrayal. Lucinda Ryan and Susan Hill fill the roles of Madames Bathilde and Caron quite nicely. And Dave Bollander lights up the stage with a brilliant quintet of varied characters – full of subtle touches and nuance. The band of friends – Mssrs. Hartzburg, Powell and Keller – all feature sharp and energetic performances.

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(from left) Matt Hartzburg, Kelly Keller, Adam Powell, and Dave Bolander in a scene from CCP’s production of “Is He Dead?”

All this amusing action takes place on Mike Mellott’s fine set designs, and Cathie Morgan’s very impressive output of lush period costumes add a spectacular finishing touch.

Bottomline: Twain’s play may not be the masterpiece that many of his other writings were, but it can be said that his attempt at combined farce and melodrama is full of fun and rich commentary. The CCP group has brought the piece out to us in a very shiny version and I recommend it as an easy entertainment.

Is He Dead? continues at CCP’s temporary venue, Ji-Eun Lee Music Academy, 10029 E 126th St. Suite D, in Fishers IN through June 24th. For information about the show and to purchase tickets, go to http://www.carmelplayers.org or call the box office at (317) 815-9387.

I’d also like to mention, regarding CCP’s search for a new home: the group has announced their 2018-19 season and all but one show will be offered at The CAT in Carmel. These shows include Forever Plaid, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Failure to Zig Zag. The Christmas show, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, will be offered at the Ji-Eun Lee Music Academy. I have been told that the hunt for a new permanent address goes on.

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