David Bigelow

David Bigelow

Mark Twain comedy staged by Nanaimo Theatre Group

Play holds up to author's reputation for funny, clever writing

A new production from Nanaimo Theatre Group pokes fun at an odd aspect of the art world – paintings are worth more if the artist is dead.

The community theatre company performs Is He Dead?, a comedy written by Mark Twain, opening Wednesday (Feb. 8).

Director Sheila Bowman said the play falls right into what Nanaimo Theatre Group audiences love – funny with a touch of melodrama and farce.

“We’re always searching for clever comedies,” Bowman said.

The play tells the story of a starving artist living in Paris who is deeply indebted to a nefarious character, like so many other people in his community.

“He’s got a hold over everyone because he’s lent money to them,” Bowman said.

The artist tries to sell his paintings to cover the debt, but he finds that people will only buy a painting if they know the artist is dead – it’s worth more money that way.

“A light bulb goes off in their heads,” Bowman said.

The artist fakes his death and returns to the community posing as his twin sister. The illusion is in danger of unravelling when relationships, such as the artist’s with his girlfriend, are put under strain.

Dave Bigelow returns to community theatre after a nine-year hiatus as the lead character – or, more accurately, characters.

“The lead actor spends all of Act II in a dress,” Bowman said.

Bowman said the play carries Twain’s signature humour throughout.

“Mark Twain wrote it on a rainy Sunday during a bout of depression,” Bowman said. “He wrote it to cheer himself up.”

The play was never performed during Twain’s lifetime but found after his death among his estate. Writer David Ives freshened up the jokes, making it ready for production.

Much of the humour comes from Twain’s innate knowledge of human behaviour – he knew what people responded to, said Bowman.

Due to the difference between the first and second acts – Bowman describes the first as a melodrama and the second more like a farce – set designer Roger Lappin, who also designed the award-winning production of Doubt, created two completely different sets for the new production.

“It’s a really complicated set,” Bowman said.

Is He Dead? runs Feb. 8-11, 15-18 and 22-25 at 8 p.m. and Feb. 12 and 19 at 2 p.m. at the Bailey Studio on Rosstown Road.

For this production, Nanaimo Theatre Group is only selling tickets in advance – none will be available at the door. Tickets $16-18. Please call 250-758-7224 or visit www.nanaimotheatregroup.com.

arts@nanaimobulletin.com