NPR logo Rediscovering Mark Twain, the Playwright

Rediscovering Mark Twain, the Playwright

A Never Published Play of Social Commentary Debuts

Mark Twain's newly unearthed play 'Is He Dead?' hide caption

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The great American author had little success as a playwright. Photo courtesy The Mark Twain House, Hartford, Conn. hide caption

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Mark Twain was a master of fiction, satire, commentary and the killer one-liner... but theater? Although he wrote plays throughout his career, the great American writer was a flop as a dramatist. All but one of his works failed spectacularly, if they made it to production at all. But now, one of those scripts has escaped from obscurity.

The never-before-published, still-never-produced play Is He Dead? hit shelves in October, and one Broadway producer is searching for a company to stage it. The plot is a highly fictionalized account of the French painter Jean-Francois Millet, and his starving artist-fellows, who embark on a scheme to drive up painting prices by faking his own death. It involves cross-dressing, art criticism, social commentary and more than a few jabs at the French. NPR's Neal Conan speaks with the book's editor and looks at Twain the writer, his inglorious career as a playwright and his continuing influence on American literature.