April 8 through 23, Chicago Street Theatre invites audiences to travel back to 1960 and the story of two Hollywood giants whose time in the spotlight had faded. Orson's Shadow by Austin Pendleton is based on actual events in the lives of actor, writer, producer, and director, Orson Welles and Laurence Olivier,the hero of the London stage and husband of screen icon, Vivien Leigh. Both men had had achieved their greatest successes by the age of twenty-five and by 1960, each was struggling with the notion that his time for greatness had passed.
In the play, Pendleton takes a dramatic and humorous look at these two geniuses of the stage and screen and a startling proposal by famed theatre critic, Kenneth Tynan. The West End critic suggests that for the pair to reclaim their former glory by teaming up for a production of Eugene Ionesco's absurdist comedy, Rhinoceros with Welles directing and Olivier starring opposite his mistress, Joan Plowright. Adding further complications to the story is actress Vivien Leigh who's struggling to keep her sanity while away in Hollywood.
"Olivier and Leigh and Welles and his second wife Rita Hayworth were the talk of 'Tinsel Town' back in the 40's and 50's" says CST Marketing Director, Eric Brant, "They were the Brad and Angelina or the Jennifer Garner/Ben Affleck of their day and part of what's compelling about this play is how it looks at these icons and what they were like when their fame went away."
For Olivier his fame came from his marriage to the actress who played Scarlet O'Hara and stunning film versions of Shakespeare's Henry V, Richard III, and Hamlet. With Welles it was his fast rise on Broadway with The Mercury Theatre, in radio with The War of the Worlds broadcast that shocked the nation, and his movie masterpieces:The Magnificient Ambersons and Citizen Kane. Both geniuses came from very different backgrounds with the Englishman being a highly trained student of theatre; while Welles was a self-taught prodigy who went against the grain of how things were done in Hollywood.
Pendleton examines the nature of these two men's differences in this inventive play that crackles with wit and absurdity. Director, Bob Cooley said that part of what drew him to the script was the complexity that the playwright gives the characters and an affinity for the 60's era in which it takes place. As a film student in college, the director admitted that he had a deep respect for both men's work, Cooley added "What makes this show so much fun is watching Welles and Olivier's titanic egos battle it out, albeit very manipulatively, for control of this ship that isn't all that seaworthy."
Mary DeBoer who plays Vivien Leigh in the production said, "One of the great challenges in a piece like this is that we are playing real life people that audiences are familiar with. That's different from creating a character purely based on the lines in the script. We've had to do our research on them and, while we aren't going for dead-on impressions, we have to capture their essence in a way that those seeing the show will connect with and relate to."
For the cast, Cooley and his Assistant Director Auriel Lark-Felsecker have enlisted the talents of Dustin Ritchea (Chesterton) as Kenneth Tynan, George Maslankowski (LaPorte) as Orson Welles, Dan Matern (Chesterton) as Laurence Olivier, Mary DeBoer (Valparaiso) as Vivien Leigh, Caity Mullen (Valparaiso) as Joan Plowright, and Marc J. Bonich (Valparaiso) as Sean. The technical staff features Sound Design by Mary A. Bird, Costumes by Kat Lutze, with Cooley serving as Lighting Designer and assisting with the musical soundtrack.
Tickets are $20 for Adults,$17 for Students, Seniors, and Groups of 10 or more, with the deluxe seats on the theatre's front row couches at $30 per person. Purchases and reservations can be made through the theatre's Box Office at 219-464-1636 X1 or online at ChicagoStreet.org. Box Office hours are weekdays from Noon to 4 PM and two hours prior to performance times.
Chicago Street Theatre invites audience members to join the cast and crew following the performance on Friday, April 8 for an Opening Night Party hosted by Bon Femme Cafe and on Friday, April 15 for a Happy After Hour Party hosted by Valparaiso's Burger Haus. The cast and crew will also be available to talk about the production following the show on April 21 as part of CST's popular Thursday Talkback series.
In addition to Orson's Shadow, opening weekend will also host a concert from Sarah Dooley on Sunday, April 10 as part of Chicago Street Theatre's One Night Jam music series. Dooley is a national recording artist who began her career as a teen working on plays and musicals at CST. The theatre is excited for the return of one of their own and her special brand of quirky, intelligent pop that boosted her to the top of iTunes with her album Stupid Things in 2014. Tickets are available through the Box Office and online.
Chicago Street hopes audiences will join them for this wonderfully funny and dramatic play that celebrates the art of theatre and nature of genius April 8-23.