John McMartin and Norbert Leo Butz

Now that the Broadway stagehands’ strike is history, another feel good archives story has emerged just in time for the holidays. Or is it really a feel good story for archives, after all?

Yesterday saw the Broadway premiere of an adaptation of a previously unperformed and unpublished play by Mark Twain, Is He Dead? (circa 1898). As widely reported, the manuscript was “rediscovered” by scholar, Shelly Fisher Fishkin at the University of California, Berkeley’s Bancroft Library several years ago. An illustrated edition of the Twain text was published by the University of California Press in 2003 as part of its Jumping Frog series. Now, a new version of the play, adapted by that resurrection specialist, David Ives, of Encores! fame (many of you may have heard him as a panelist at the Theatre Library Association’s Performance Reclamation symposium last February), has opened to largely positive reviews at New York’s Lyceum Theatre.

While the resultant good publicity may generate a few more sales of the book and perhaps some additional donations to the Bancroft’s worthy Mark Twain Papers and Project and Mark Twain Project Online, so far, no one has bothered to thank the archivists for preserving and providing access to the original material.

Image credit: John McMartin and Norbert Leo Butz in Is He Dead?; photograph by Joan Marcus (from the show’s official Web site).

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