By Richard Schultz, February 2017 Issue.
In his latest role, recent Valley transplant Jeff Deglow spends a good portion of stage time in drag – a challenge he’s thrilled about, though he readily acknowledges that it took some adjustment to adapt to 19th Century women’s attire.
“I had to laugh at the first time I was in my rehearsal dress and shoes,” he recalled. “Within a few of hours, I had ripped my petticoat, tore the back out of my dress and earned the expected blisters from those heels. I really don’t know how women perform in this stuff? But it has been such a joy to learn and play within it!”
Deglow is playing the dual lead role of Jean-François Millet and widow Daisy Tillou in Hale Centre Theatre’s production of Is He Dead?, which runs through Feb. 11.
This madcap comedy is based on Mark Twain’s play and adapted by versatile playwright David Ives (All in the Timing, Polish Joke). Written in 1898, Is He Dead? remained unpublished until it was rediscovered in 2002 by noted Twain scholar Shelley Fisher Fishkin.
Set in Paris in 1846, where everyone knows that only dead painters achieve fame and fortune, Jean-Francois Millet must fake his death in order to escape debtor’s prison and save the love of his life, Marie Leroux.
By takes on the role of an imaginary twin sister, Daisy Tillou, he attempts to collect the rewards on his art. Ultimately, he must find a way to return to life and marry Marie.
“One of greatest challenges is the fact that once I step onstage there is no going back and no leaving,” Deglow said. “It’s a fast-paced show with characters coming and going through a multitude of entrances. As one set of characters exits, the next set arrives with a new problem. I certainly earn my 10-minute intermission break when it finally comes.”
Originally from Canada, Deglow moved to Arizona, by way of New York City, a year ago. While he had hoped to enjoy a brief hiatus sitting by a pool, practicing yoga and reading, he instead found himself busier than ever.
“This role is monster. It is basically two different characters, as opposite as can be, strung together with a single story line,” he said. “The first is a man suffering the affliction of being a starving artist and the other is like a bottle of champagne ready to burst!”
For this dual role, Deglow said he spent a considerable amount studying original source material by Twain.
“Preparing for this role has been quite the commitment,” he said. “This character is based on the actual acclaimed painter Jean-Francois Millet, who I researched. However, [the] only remnants of the actual painter in this story are the use of his name and art works … what you’ll see on stage is a compilation of hours of research of the environment and customs of the time.”
Deglow’s favorite moment occurs in a hilarious climactic scene, which he calls “The Deconstruction of Daisy Tillou.
“It is so funny that we, as actors, hardly keep it together ourselves,” he said. “Director Seth Reines created a ‘Carol Burnett’ moment to allow my character, the rest of the cast and the audience a moment to laugh at ourselves and at the situation. I live for this moment and never had this much fun on stage!”
Additionally, Deglow believes this show tackles such themes as fame, legacy, artistic ownership and the power of love over money. He feels the greatest insights lie in the exploration of societal influences and expectations of gender, as his character is forced to navigate the world through the opposite gender’s limitations.
“This play is just a rumpus good time,” Deglow said. “In a world where we are finally celebrating the culture of cross-dressing, such as in ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race,’ this play takes it one step further. It is fun to see a person explore the many facets of their personality. I believe we are all complex beings. It’s a joy to play a character who is able to let go of his inhibitions and to explore the world from another perspective. We all have a little Millet and a little Tillou inside of us!”
Is He Dead?
Through Feb. 11
Hale Centre Theatre
50 W. Page Ave., Gilbert
Tickets: $18-$30; 480-497-1181