“I cannot be responsible for all the things I say…” was a line from ORSON’S SHADOW, a dark, manic-depressive play, produced by the cutting edge Langhorne Players at Tyler State Park, near Newtown, PA. That’s how I feel having seen the show. I am afraid of what will roll off my tongue and into cyberspace; not that I disliked anything so major that I am nervous to say it. It’s just a brooding play and I am taking liberties to brood. Kathy Garofano, the director of this haunting play, faced a huge challenge. The main characters were the infamous “Rosebud” Orson Wells (Aaron Wexler), Sir Lawrence Olivier (Bernard DiCasimirro), Ken Tynan, a famous theatre/film critic in his day, (Nigel Rogers) and “Scarlett O’Hara”, Miss Vivien Leigh (Kate Fishman). How do you do justice to legendary actors without it becoming a caricature or cartoonish recreation? You self invent; you throw out the “typical” and strive for unique. Garafono succeed. This is an “Actor’s Play,” full of the psychological self battling demons that all actors face but normally fail to communicate, nor want to communicate. ORSON’S SHADOW deals with those demons and the play is all about the communications and tried exorcism of said demons. I am sure Garafono dealt in rehearsals with her own demons, trying to manage this powerful, talk-heavy show, wondering how not to fail. She stood up to the challenge, gave confident direction, centered the piece on the “now” and molded the actors’ performances to give realistic views of giants in their profession being reduced to mere mortals. It would have been a tough job for anyone to direct. I give Garafono credit for making this her own.
As for making it their own, the actors faced the daunting challenge of playing the legends. This would be scary enough, let alone the heavy line load each of the main characters faced. Nevertheless, I saw real growth in several outstanding performances and I encourage you to see this show, if not for entertainment, but for self-fulfillment and self-realization. Ken Tynan, a real life friend of Wells, encourages Olivier to have Wells direct him in a play. It’s 1960 and according to legend and/or history, both men were suffering from being seen as brilliance past; that their stars shone bright decades ago or to put it in modern terms, everyone was singing Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days”. Tynan, who has written his share of harsh reviews of all, is the unfortunate “man in the middle”, torn between what he has written and how he would like to be perceived. It’s the interaction of these three that are the basic premise of the play, or so I think. I am brooding right now, so, maybe not.
Rogers gives a stellar performance as this chain-smoking critic. His character breaks the fourth wall and talks direct to the audience, which I absolutely love as an audience member. I am in the seat, watching the live performance; the character speaks directly to me, not at me. He realizes I am there; and because I am there, he has a job to do; perform. And Rogers performs. I encourage him to battle his own demons and stay on stage as long as he can; he gives audience members hope.
“Living genius can only disappoint” is another line from this play that struck a raw nerve with me. Can you imagine having to play Wells, probably considered one of the best directors of all times, breaking creative barriers with his every thought? Can you imagine playing Olivier, who was considered to be the best actor of all times, the superior “Hamlet”? The burden is great. However, I am so pleased to report that both Wexler and DiCasimirro accomplished this heavy task. They battled each other on stage, two giants with egos the size of Mt. Rushmore and both thinking they probably deserved to be there too. Oh, wait, you think Wexler and DiCasimirro had the giant egos? No, their performances did. They had to. They had to show that “if you are capable of greatness, you must achieve it”. Wexler’s performance was arrogant. He was like a volcano pre-eruption. His mannerisms were tactical and deliberate. And I saw him as Wells; anything less from Wexler and I would not have believed it. As for DiCasimirro, he needed to be full of himself, confident to a point of second guessing himself. His character did it all the time; so he had to as well. A fabulous scene in which Sir Larry is trying to play a dismal, little man, trying to interact with a young naïve girl, Joan Plowright, played by Sara Stepnowski, he goes off the wall, bouncing around as if any mentally disturbed genius would. They say there is a fine line between genius and the crush of mentally cruelty; DiCasimirro, as a major compliment, comes oh so close.
Fishman’s Miss Leigh was harder for me to understand and grasp. There is a phone scene between Leigh and Olivier (who were married to each other at one time), that still has me questioning “why.” Maybe it was the ping-pong effect of watching two people talk to each other on either side of the long Langhorne stage, or maybe it was Austin Pendleton’s writing that had me perplexed. This show had written moments of sheer comic genius for such a dark overview play; I haven’t laughed out loud so hard and long in many a time. But this scene unfortunately was not one of those. So, I am left puzzled.
The show’s overall theme seemed to be summed up with a simple line; that sometimes you can have “giants in chains.” There is something to be said for how this show wrapped itself around me and held my attention. I sincerely congratulate this marvelous cast, crew, director and producer, Alice Weber, for a night of great theatre that the respective legends that they portrayed would have been proud to watch.
by Austin Pendleton
Directed by Kathy Garofano
October 1-16, 2010
The Spring Garden Mill
Route 332 (Richboro Road)
Newtown, PA 18940