By David Walters

Austin Pendleton has been reviving and fine tuning his play Orson’s Shadow for over 25 years. It first ran at Steppenwolf in 2000, “witty and arresting,” and has been revived for a very short run at Theater for the New City (TNC) from March 14 to 31, “theatrical top-shelf.” Austin has taken over the directing reins this time and it’s a wonderful, snappy, eaves dropping couple of hours. (The dialogue in the phone call where Laurence Olivier (Ryan Tramont) is trying to breakup with his wife Vivien Leigh (Natalie Menna), is riveting and rich with history and meaning giving the audience an edge of your seat experience.)

If you know of Orson Welles, Laurence Olivier, Joan Plowright, and Vivien Leigh, this play will be a delight to you in the characterzations as each actor wholly embodies the essence of their roles. And if you enjoy theater and everything required to mount a play, then you’ll double your pleasure as the conversations about creativity, genius, and how they clash with one another stem from Mr. Pendleton’s long and illustrious personal journey. But even if you’ve never heard of any of these actors, Austin’s dialogue, as the characters spar with one another throughout the play, is any actor’s dream as the words, thoughts, and feelings overlap, co-mingle, and symphonically bounce off of one another.

Orson’s Shadow is based on true events that happened in 1960 when, for ulterior motives, Welles agreed to direct Olivier and Plowright in the English premier of the politically charged Rhinoceros by Eugène Ionesco. (Read about Orson’s version of what happened here.) Orson not only directed the production, but he also designed the set, the costumes, the lighting and the sound effects, like his films, he was intimately involved with every aspect of the production. Olivier was beginning a relationship with Plowright at the time and trying to figure out how to end his marriage with Ms. Leigh. Though respecting each other’s genius, Welles and Olivier approached art in two different ways, and those two different ways did not often meet. All of this turmoil has the makings of a great story to be told in theatrical form and Orson’s Shadow delivers.


Orson’s Shadow, wirtten and directed by Austin Pendleton.

The actors are Brad Fryman as Orson Welles, Ryan Tramont as Laurence Olivier, Patrick Hamilton as Kenneth Tynan, Luke Hofmaier as Sean, the Stage Manager; Natalie Menna as Vivien Leigh and Kim Taff as Joan Plowright.

Lighting Design is by Alexander Bartenieff. Costume Design is by Billy Little. Sound Design is by Nick Moore. David Schweitzer is co-director. Mark Karafin is Assistant Director and Company Manager.

Tickets can be purchsed here.