Orson's Shadow

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Orson's Shadow is a play by Austin Pendleton. The play received a Lucille Lortel Award nomination for Outstanding Play and won the Drama League Award for Distinguished Performance.

The play debuted at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago in January 2000 and was performed at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego in September of that year [1].

The off-Broadway production, directed by David Cromer, opened on March 13, 2005 at the Barrow Street Theatre, where it ran for 349 performances. The cast included Jeff Still as Orson Welles, John Judd as Laurence Olivier, Susan Bennett as Joan Plowright, Lee Roy Rogers as Vivien Leigh, Tracy Letts as Ken Tynan, and Ian Westerfer as the stagehand Sean.

Since its New York City staging, Orson's Shadow has been mounted by a number of regional theatres, including Marin Theatre Company in Mill Valley, California [2], Round House Theatre in Bethesda, Maryland [3], Unicorn Theatre in Kansas City, Missouri [4], and the Gorilla Theatre in Tampa, Florida [5].

In 2006 it received a rehearsed reading at London's Old Vic Theatre .


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 Eugène Ionesco's Rhinoceros starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Plowright. Olivier, fresh from his triumphant portrayal of vaudevillean Archie Rice on stage and about to reprise the role in the film adaptation of John Osborne's The Entertainer, and Plowright are in the early stages of a romantic liaison developing 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 upon them by the studio establishment.

It is a study of theatrical egos, each of the protagonists living mainly on the stage than in real life, each one feeling insecure while jockeying for power.

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