News and Views
9:50 am
Wed May 23, 2007

ORSON'S SHADOW: Philadelphia Theatre Company

I hope the Philadelphia Theatre Company extends Orson's Shadow: Austin Pendleton's play is that good and this ensemble makes it better. The play is based on an event in Orson Welles' life: and the facts when it comes to the creator of Citizen Kane are stranger and poignant.

Orson's Shadow

May 4 - June 3, 2007

Philadelphia Theatre Company

I hope the Philadelphia Theatre Company extends Orson's Shadow: Austin Pendleton's play is that good and this ensemble makes it better. The play is based on an event in Orson Welles' life: and the facts when it comes to the creator of Citizen Kane are stranger and poignant. Wanting to help his stalled career, Ken Tynan, the great critic, convinces Wells and Laurence Olivier to work together on a play. But the lions of stage & screen are holding grudges. And the play, Ionesco'sThe Rhinoceros, will prove a stinker. It's 1960. Olivier is involved with his young co-star Joan Plowright. He's tormented about how to leave Vivian Leigh. She's suffering from manic depression.

Tynan who has idolized Wells since childhood, narrates. John Hickey plays the critic, brilliantly. Before Welles, whose majestic bass is heard first offstage, Tynan willingly assumes the role of stooge; when he's with his friend Larry Olivier, Tynan is prone to stutter. The critic's insights and the inside information this play delivers is superb. They blow up but Tynan tells them what they need to know. Wilbur Henry plays Welles, repeating a role for which he won an award two years ago. There's a gasp in the house when he walks out because the resemblance is so striking: the stance, the girth, the voice so beautiful, so resonant. With a minimum of gestures, mostly facial, he suggests Welles' wild mind.

Brent Harris gives Olivier the dashing vanity of a romantic hero, a leading man who can't stomach playing a nonentity. His comic riffs during rehearsals are very good but director James Christy lets them go on too long. Rachel Botchan's portrait of the young Plowright reveals the maturity of a woman in love with a narcissist and level headed enough to manage both man and art; Susan Wilder's Vivian Leigh shows many sides of the actress including the manic the sophisticate and the girlish flirt. Despite the humor, the effect of this fine play is sadness and an empathy not just for Welles. We are left pondering the fates of three magnificent artists and one man of letters.

I'm Lesley Valdes for WRTI.