Shelley Fishkin, a professor of English at Stanford, was going through the Mark Twain's archives, when she happened upon an old manuscript of a play that made her laugh out loud.
“I hadn’t had that much fun reading a manuscript in a long time,” she recalled recently. “And I’d never been as surprised. It was a whole, finished play. He had even managed, and this was not necessarily his strong suit, a plot, with memorable characters and hilarious scenes. I thought it held great promise.”
Last week, the play Is He Dead? finally reached Broadway, in a version adapted by the playwright David Ives.
Mr. Ives was unspooked by the assignment. “I know I’ve delighted people in my time,” he said, “so what the hell? Don’t forget that writers are just guys like you, and that they’re all trying to make something good. Twain understood that. I think if he had pulled ‘Is He Dead?’ out of the drawer, he would have slapped himself on the forehead and said, ‘What was I thinking?,’ then revised it and put it onstage. He knew that theater is a totally expedient art.
“Plus, he’s dead.”