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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Lyceum Theatre

By Robert Cashill

  Norbert Leo Butz (left) and friends

From Wikipedia you will learn that Jean-Francois Millet co-founded the Barbizon school and painted the masterpieces The Gleaners and The Angelus. But only at the Lyceum will you discover that Millet, hounded by creditors, faked his own death in the hopes of attracting posthumous attention and masqueraded as his own sister, Daisey, as the sales rolled in. That's the story behind Mark Twain's Is He Dead?, a rediscovered relic that adapter David Ives has put a few finishing touches on for its theatrical debut.

An expert cast, under the slaphappy guidance of Noises Off director Michael Blakemore , gives life to Dead. Though reformed as the nice guy Millet, dirty rotten scoundrel Norbert Leo Butz retains his knack for lowdown farce, and his feminine side makes a sensational impression outfitted in Martin Pakledinaz's billowing gowns. The cross-dressing doesn't stop there, with much of the supporting cast donning drag in the service of a strenuously featherweight show, whose charms will be lost on anyone who doesn't appreciate men in bloomers, women in mustaches, and people with funny accents (the splendid David Pittu, in multiple roles, has a new one every scene or so, and I volunteer him for the part of Inspector Clouseau once Steve Martin is done with it). Despite the best efforts to amuse me undertaken by a comically villainous Byron Jennings, a sweetly oblivious Jenn Gambatese (as Millet's lady love), and the reliably silly John McMartin and Marylouise Burke , and a pair of very handsome sets by Peter J. Davison to admire, I must admit I felt my resolve regarding ridiculousness wearing thin by the second act.

But then Butz started fooling around with glass eyes and mannequin parts to cool the ardor of one admirer towards Daisey-you have to be there-and all was forgiven, not that anyone will mistake the scattershot Is He Dead? for a lost classic. Nevertheless, the program tells us that Twain took in an insouciant comedy at the Lyceum 99 years ago, and he would be pleased to know he's got an audience rolling in its aisles with his own, which had been left for dead in the late 19th century.


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