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HPU’s talented cast has fun with Twain

  • HAWAII PACIFIC UNIVERSITY
    Rob Duval, who plays Jean-Francois Millet, a painter who pretends to have died to increase the value of his work, dances with his friends, portrayed by Duncan Dalzell, Seth Lilley and Phillip Hedback.
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CORRECTION

» Michael de Ycaza plays the part of Papa Leroux in Hawaii Pacific University’s production of "Is He Dead?" His name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story.

 

It’s a fact of economic life that when an artist or sculptor dies their body of work becomes finite and increases in value. It is true today, and it was true in 1898 when Mark Twain wrote his first and only stage play, "Is He Dead?"

As reworked by playwright David Ives more than a century later, Twain’s observations on art, fame and human nature still ring true.

Rob Duval gives a winning performance as the cross-dressing star of this satirical comedy, and Hawaii Pacific University director of theater Joyce Maltby surrounds him with talented players in all of the important roles.

Impoverished painter Jean-Francois Millet (Duval) is facing financial ruin at the hands of Bastien Andre (Kenneth Kirschnick), a wealthy art dealer who wants to destroy him for personal reasons. A sale brokered by one of Millet’s friends that would have allowed him to pay off the debt falls through when the would-be buyer, a wealthy Englishman (John Hunt), discovers that Millet is still alive.

The wealthy Englishman only collects the works of dead artists.

"IS HE DEAD?"

» Where: Hawaii Pacific University, 45-045 Kamehameha Highway
» When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday (except Nov. 25), 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 4 p.m. Sunday through Dec. 5. There will also be Saturday matinee performances Nov. 27 and Dec. 4
» Admission: $25 ($15 seniors, military, students and HPU faculty/staff; $5 HPU students. Other discounts available for Wednesday and Thursday shows)
» Info: 375-1282

Later that same day Millet’s friends inform the French media that Millet is in the final stage of a terminal illness and has left Paris to die "on the Barbary coast." With that announcement, Millet’s fame is assured. Reporters who can’t even get his name right hail him as one of the greatest painters in French history. The wealthy Englishman returns to buy several works for far more than the asking prices.

There are, of course, a few problems. Millet’s "death" has left his girlfriend brokenhearted, but he doesn’t trust her to keep the secret if he lets her in on the scam.

Millet’s friends have him disguised as his eccentric twin sister, Daisy, and explain away the inconsistencies in Daisy’s account as the result of her grief over her brother’s death.

Duval spends most of the show in a 19th century dress and wig playing a man trying to pass himself off as his widowed sister without any preparation for the masquerade. He proves fully capable of handling every demand that the role makes of him.

Seth Lilley (Chicago), Duncan Dalzell (Phelim) and Phillip Hedback (Dutchy) are a tight trio as Millet’s three friends — a fast-talking American, a charming Irishman and a German who turns out to be smarter than the others give him credit for, respectively.

HPU student Sara Cate Langham (Marie) adds to the romantic comic angles in the role of Millet’s girlfriend. Madeline Ruhl (Cecile) shows off her comic skills as Chicago’s jealous girlfriend. Michael de Ycaza (Papa Leroux) contributes a fine physical performance as one of Daisy’s suitors, and Kirschnick does a convincing job as a broadly written villain.

Although the premise is reasonable, the resolution is far beyond improbable. But by the time Millet has found a way to prove that Daisy didn’t kill him, the show is such good fun that realism is irrelevant.

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