Mark Twain's Is he Dead? starts with all the joy of a funeral. The painter Jean-Francois Millet (Alex Martinez Wallace) is a talented but broke artist, his closest acquaintances are saddled with exorbitant debts, and his poverty may prevent him from marrying Marie Leroux (Kristin Witterschein), who may seek forgiveness of her father’s loans by marrying the distasteful moneylender Bastien Andre (Zach Rogers).
Fortunately, the prospect of overcharging gullible art buyers warms the mood. And by the time, Millet and his friends realize the announcement of his death would drive prices up even further, they become giddy with anticipation.
UNO theater department and the NOLA Project combined to stage the Mark Twain play. The script was first published in 2003. It was written in 1898 while Twain was in Vienna, a year after his famous line, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated,” which he wrote in response to a mistaken rumor of his death in London.
Twain is a master of irony, absurdity and social satire, and once the cross dressing begins, Is He Dead? becomes a high-spirited romp. It’s dancing-on-a-coffin funny and manages to mock all the right targets: heartless moneylenders for their greed and selfishness, art collectors who think only of money and reputation, and European royalty — just because effete royals are always funny.
The production continues through Sunday at UNO. Tickets and info available at the NOLA Project.