Orson's Shadow, actor Austin Pendleton's third play, concerns the 1960 London premiere of Ionesco's Rhinoceros, which starred Laurence Olivier and was directed by Orson Welles. At the time, Olivier was going through a nasty divorce from his second wife, actress Vivien Leigh, who named actress (and, from 1961, Olivier's third wife) Joan Plowright as co-respondent in her divorce filing. Kenneth Tynan was London's leading dramatic critic and all-around enfant terrible, a friend of both Welles and Olivier (he would co-found the Royal National Theatre with Oliver in 1963), and a frequent sparring partner of Ionesco's. All five famous figures are featured in the drama.
The play had its premiere in 2000 at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, where it was a critical success and extended its run. Jeff Still played titanic genius of film, theatre and radio, Welles, while John Judd was Olivier, perhaps the greatest actor of the 20th century. Also in the cast were David Warren as Kenneth Tynan, Lee Roy Rogers as Vivien Leigh, Sarah Wellington as Joan Plowright, and Dominic Conti as the only non-famous character in the play, stagehand Sean. David Cromer directed.
A mounting at the Williamstown Theatre Festival followed that summer, leading to a production at the Westport Country Playhouse. The latter was less successful critically, though the cast and director where the same as in Chicago. A 2001 Los Angeles production fared better, extending its run and picking of a L.A. Critics Circle Award for Best Production.
David Cromer returns to the play to direct the New York debut. Still, Judd and Rogers will repeat their work as Welles, Olivier and Leigh. Susan Bennett will be Plowright, playwright-actor Tracy Letts is Tynan, and Ian Westerfer is Sean.
Set design is by Takeshi Kata, costume design by Theresa Squire, lighting design by Tyler Micoleau and sound by Jonah Lawrence. Producing are Planetearth Partners, Inc. and Scott Morfee, the team behind the hit Off-Broadway production of Bug. Tickets for preview performances are $45. Post-opening, all tickets will be $55. Tickets may be arranged through Telecharge at www.telecharge.com or (212) 239-6200.