Theatre Mirror Reviews "Orson's Shadow"


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

entire contents copyright 2014 by Tony Annicone

"Orson's Shadow"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

Burbage Theatre Company's current show is "Orson's Shadow" by Austin Pendleton. The Off-Broadway production opened on March 13,2005 and ran for 349 performances. The show is based on true events, it is set in 1960 London where Orson Welles, already in the declining years of his career, is directing a production of Eugene Ionesco's Rhinoceros starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Plowright. Olivier is fresh from his triumphant portrayal of vaudevillian Archie Rice onstage and about to reprise the role in the film adaptation of John Osborne's "The Entertainer". He and Plowright are in the early stages of a romantic liaison at the end of his tumultuous marriage to Vivien Leigh. All four, and critic Kenneth Tynan, figure in the plot which debates the merits of stage vs. screen, the mental and emotional struggle theatrical performers endure when contemplating a leap to films, and what occurs when their movie careers are hampered by the controls thrust on them by the studio establishment. The play is a study of theatrical egos, with each of them living mainly onstage than in real life and each one feeling insecure while jockeying for power. Director Jeff Church does double duty in this show also playing Laurence Olivier. He obtains riveting performances from himself and his cast members and the before the show music which he uses, is tumultuous to foreshadow the events that follow in the show. Each of his performers gets their moment to shine in this comedic look back at events fictionalized by Pendleton. Burbage's second show of their season delivers the goods with topnotch direction and performances.

Nathaniel Lee delivers a wonderful performance as the pompous British reviewer, Kenneth Tynan. He enters the scene, declaring his proposal to unite Welles and Olivier at the Royal Court Theatre and at times speaks directly to the audienc. Nathaniel uses a splendid British accent in this role, stutters as Tynan did when nervous.His interactions with the other cast members is remarkable. Alex Duckworth is marvelous as Orson Welles, playing this egomaniacal character brilliantly. He appears in a fat suit and runs rough shod over Tynan and his assistant Sean in the first scene with hilarious results. He demands a steak dinner and wants to hear what a terrific director he is. Alex delivers his rapid fire dialogue with ease. Andrew Iacovelli plays Sean, with an Irish brogue and mischief in his eye while doing his master's bidding. He garners several moments of laughter at his clever antics along the way

Jeff as Olivier, makes a gangbuster entrance in the second scene, delivering dynamic dialogue with Nathaniel and Allison Crews as Joan Plowright. He is very manic, commands the stage in this scene. Allison is a gorgeous brunette who shows her backbone as Joan, going head to head with her paramour. She delivers a strong performance in this role. Rounding out the cast is Valerie Westgate, another stunning brunette who plays Vivien Leigh. She shows the delicate balance that Vivien held onto her mental stability but has comic moments while uttering the Scottish play's real name to the horror of the others around her. The end of the first act's phone call between Vivien and Laurence turns poignant at the end. Jeff makes the show sizzle and crackle with intensity, capturing the audience's attention all night long in this intelligently written script. So for a fascinating look at the lives of two of the modern theatre's greatest minds and largest egos, be sure to catch "Orson's Shadow" by Burbage Theatre Company at Artist's Exchange to witness stellar acting by these performers.

"Orson's Shadow" (22 May - 7 June)
@ Artist's Exchange, 50 Rolfe Street. CRANSTON RI

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide