|IS HE DEAD?|
Mark Twain's recently unearthed, silly cream puff of a satire may be a delicious piece of eye candy, but sink your teeth into it and you realize it's mostly hollow inside. Despite all the comedic talent involved — playwright and adaptor David Ives, director Michael Blakemore and a stellar cast led by the winning Norbert Leo Butz — the result is an overlong and frequently labored production.
This frolicsome critique on the value and merit of art is more good-natured teasing than a biting attack. But Twain does prove once again how ahead of his time he was. Butz plays Jean-Francois Millet, a hapless struggling artist whose three pals help him fake his death so that his paintings will be worth big bucks. To collect on his wares he reemerges as his own twin sister — and Butz looks strikingly and frighteningly attractive in female attire. But keeping up his new persona while lying to nearly everyone, including his devastated fiancée, and fending off amorous advances, takes its toll.
Only two hilarious sequences propel this show to the comic heights of farce. In the first, David Pittu, who switches characters and accents with the finesse of a master, plays a rich but clueless Brit who snaps up a series of paintings he thinks are Millets. (One is actually an awful, and awfully long, portrait of a dachshund; the other a drop cloth left by a chimney sweep.) In the other, Butz uses a cache of artificial body parts to scare away an oily, determined suitor (played with over-the-top panache by Byron Jennings).
But for too many minutes of this two-hour-plus play the 11-member cast fights furiously for laughs. Even the amiable, amusing Butz struggles to make groan-inducing material funny. No, it's not dead, but it is in dire need of life support.
By Diane Snyder
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Jeremy Bobb, Marylouise Burke, Norbert Leo Butz, Patricia Conolly, Jenn Gambatese, Byron Jennings, Michael McGrath, John McMartin, David Pittu, Bridget Regan, Tom Alan Robbins
149 West 45th Street
New York, NY 10036