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Mark Twain farce to play in Stamford

By Curtain Call

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Jean-Francois Millet and his fictionalized friends, take a break after figuring out how to get out of debt - with deception and death, in Curtain Call's production of the Mark Twain farce, Is He Dead?, playing in The Dressing Room Theatre, January 11 through 28.  See here, seated, L-R: Rich Masotti, Jonathan Jacobson, Daniel Mann; standing: Nick Priscott. (Photo by Lou Ursone/contributed)
Curtain Call is bringing a fabulous farce, with a cross-dressing plot written by Mark Twain, to the Dressing Room Theatre, Stamford, with its staging of Is He Dead, playing January 11 through 28.

Although a relatively recent Broadway hit, Twain's play spent decades gathering dust from the time it was written in 1898 and shelved due to fire at the theatre where it was scheduled to play, until a Stanford University professor discovered it. It was then adapted by playwright David Ives and first staged on Broadway in 2007.

Is He Dead presents a fictionalized version of French painter, Jean-François Millet. In this story, he can scarcely pay his debt to an art dealer so, with the help of friends -- a Chicagoan, a German and an Irishman – he hatches a scheme to fake his death. Millet, meanwhile, masquerades as his widowed twin sister, allowing him to enjoy his sudden sales burst while cavorting about in drag. 

"I have long been a huge fan of Twain," said Lou Ursone, Curtain Call executive director and producer for this production. "Growing up in CT, I went to his Hartford home several times as a kid, and read most of his works. Playing in the musical adaptation of Huck Finn – Big River– was a real treat for me a few years ago," he added.

Ash Lago and Steve Benko as Marie and Andre, respectively, in Curtain Call's production of the Mark Twain farce, Is He Dead?, playing in The Dressing Room Theatre, January 11 through 28. (Photo by Lou Ursone/contributed)
Director John Atkin (NORWALK) said, "When given the opportunity to direct this hysterical farce, I jumped at the chance.  I thought back to all the Mark Twain I had read in school, and particularly his humor and use of satire to paint the picture of life in America in the 19th century."

Atkin and Ursone agree that while the premise is absurd, as should be in a good farce, the updating of the material by playwright David Ives, combined with the brilliance of Mark Twain's humor, leads to a raucous two hours of theater. They also agree that they're blessed with a talented and hysterical cast from all over this region, who came out and auditioned for this play.

The cast includes, from STAMFORD: Donna Fox, Jean Marie McCormick, Nick Priscott, Ted Yudain; from GREENWICH: Daniel Mann; from NEW HAVEN: Ash Lago; from LITCHFIELD: Jonathan Jacobson; from SOUTHPORT: Steve Benko; from WESTPORT: John Fatteross; from WILTON: Azra Ahmed; from NEW ROCHELLE, NY: Rich Masotti.

Atkin added: "I sit back and literally laugh out loud every night at rehearsals, which says a lot for an old grump like me! These performers are giving it their all to develop a cast of characters that will have you laughing out loud too, particularly up close and personal, in the intimacy of the 100 seat Dressing Room Theatre."

In addition to Atkin, the production team includes, from FAIRFIELD: Peter Barbieri, Jr. – production design and Morgan Graham Wilson – assistant stage manager; from GREENWICH: Mike Shanahan – stage manager; from STAMFORD: Meghan Lima-Bona – assistant stage manager; and, from NORWALK: Robin Mazzola – costume designer.

"One of the things I love about presenting Is He Dead is that most people don't think of Twain as a playwright," said Ursone. But he had a substantial success of his stage version of The Gilded Age, which premiered in 1874 and brought in tens of thousands of dollars over the next decade. He continued to draft scripts throughout his life.  

Is He Dead will play in The Dressing Room Theatre from January 11 through 28, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, 8:00 p.m.  Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Regular prices are $35 for adults, $25 for senior citizens and $17.50 for children (up to age 21). Thursday evenings – all seats $25. Seating in The Dressing Room Theatre is cabaret-style with a BYOEverything format. Doors open for seating one hour before showtime. Discounted Flex Passes reduce prices by up to 30%. Box Office: 203-461-6358 or online at www.curtaincallinc.com.
The remainder of Curtain Cal's 27th season includes  Newsies, Mulberry Street, The Boys Next Door, A Comedy of Tenors and Superman the Musical. In addition to comedy nights, concerts and interactive murder mysteries, there will also be a special, one-night-only presentation of Love Letters featuring veteran soap opera stars, Robert Newman and Britt Newman.

More information is available at www.curtaincallinc.com or by calling 203-329-8207. Curtain Call is the non-profit community-based theatre company in residence at The Sterling Farms Theatre Complex, 1349 Newfield Avenue in Stamford. Year-round productions and workshops are presented by and for area residents in The Kweskin Theatre and The Dressing Room Theatre. Curtain Call was voted Fairfield County's BEST LOCAL THEATRE GROUP ten years running in the Annual Readers' Poll of The Fairfield County Weekly and has received similar BEST OF awards from Stamford Magazine and StamfordPlus magazine for 2008 through 2016. Curtain Call received The Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts in 2011 and the ACE Award for Excellence in Arts & Culture from the Cultural Alliance of Fairfield County.

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