Northwestern High to stage little-known Twain play

Young thespians at Northwestern High School will take to the stage Thursday night to perform “Is He Dead?,” a little-known comedy written by a very well-known author, Mark Twain.

The play – a tricky comedy requiring a great deal of skill and practice – just spoke to theater teacher Tamara Altman.

“I wanted to try a comedy and I wanted to do a period piece,” Altman said. “This was a perfect script.”

Twain wrote “Is He Dead?” in Vienna in 1898, but it was never published. The manuscript was discovered in a university library in California 12 years ago and was updated by playwright David Ives. The plot focuses on the life of Jean-Francois Millet, a young artist who fakes his own death and pretends to be his sister.

Freshman Jalen Peake gets the honor of donning the dress to play Millet, a role he says has been fun but demanding, especially because he just got the role two weeks ago when another student had to back out.

“Is He Dead?” requires great comedic timing, Altman said, something her students have been working on a lot in rehearsals.

“We start to feel the play and get in touch with the play more,” Peake said.

Each time they rehearse, sophomores Helen Coats and Abby Senesi said they find new “little things” to enhance the comedy and improve their performance.

No matter what happens, though, Coats, Senesi, Peake and Altman all agreed that Twain’s wit stands out and the play is “hysterical” and sure to make everyone in the audience laugh.