Review: Orson’s Shadow at Silver Spring Stage

TheatreBloom rating:

After gaining control of my excitement over the chance to see my first production at Silver Spring Stage, I decided to do a little exploration on the plot of their current production, Orson’s Shadow. Written by Austin Pendleton, the play is a fictional story about a true situation of the dramatic and intertwined relationships between Hollywood egos; a writer, a critic, an actor, and a director.  The Stage’s production of this piece is a roller coaster ride into the lives of some of the most beloved famous icons of the Golden Age of Hollywood.

(L-R) David Dieudonne (Kenneth Tynan), Bill Hurlbut (Laurence Olivier), Lena Winter (Joan Plowright)Harvey Levine
(L-R) David Dieudonne (Kenneth Tynan), Bill Hurlbut (Laurence Olivier), Lena Winter (Joan Plowright)

Mr. Seth Ghitelman is not only the Director of this dramatic, and yet often comedic piece of theatre, he is also the Producer, and the show’s Set Designer. I’m exhausted at the very thought of doing all of these tasks. Exhausted or not, Mr. Ghitelman has done a remarkable job in directing six very talented performers. The only major scene change that happens during the performance happens too slowly, but this aside Mr. Ghitelman keeps the action of this show moving. If you aren’t familiar with the Golden Age of Hollywood, the play may get a little confusing and there are a lot of references to famous names from that time. This performance invites you into that world but you better come ready to follow along!

Mr. Michael Kharfen played Orson Wells in this production and was responsible for quite a bit of the comedic relief within this show. His stature and the natural tone of his voice made him the center of attention in the majority of his scenes. His delivery of a few simple yet perfectly timed one-liners gave me cause to chuckle out loud. Mr. Bill Hurlbut had the task of playing the legendary Sir Lawrence Olivier, and the relationship during the second act between Orson and Lawrence was really engaging; fantastic on stage chemistry between the two.

The two leading ladies in this production were my favorite characters in the show. However, this could be because I am a die hard for some of the old Hollywood’s Golden Age gals. Ms. Lena Winter portrayed actress Joan Plowright, who was Lawrence Olivier’s fiancé. The way Ms. Winter carried herself through the production was very similar to the way the real Joan Plowright carried herself in motion pictures I have seen. Whether this was a directorial choice or an actor’s choice, it was definitely the right one to be made. The level of stress and frustration shown from Ms. Winter during several scenes appeared to be genuine and natural. And I LOVED her shoes.

Emma Gorin was the Costume Designer for the production and did a remarkable job with the ladies’ costumes. They really suited the time period and reflected that Golden Age of Hollywood look. And as I said— LOVED the shoes she found for the Joan Plowright character.

Now, to discuss the incomparable Vivian Leigh, played by Ms. Leta Hall. It’s one of the smaller roles in this production but one of the most important. The tension this character brought to the stage and the conflict that she caused made me squirm in my seat. And at the same time I felt sad for the mental state of this character because of Ms. Hall’s solid performance. The level tension between Ms. Winter’s character and Ms. Hall’s during the second act was very interesting to watch. It made me want to be a fly on the wall at the time of the real life meeting that inspired this story.

The role of Ken, played by Mr. David Dieudonne, is the kick starter for this production and is somewhat of a narrative figure for the play. In taking advantage of the mini biographies of these celebrities posted at the entrance to the theatre, I learned a bit about Ken and his involvement with these performers. His real life sex addiction and struggles with emphysema slowly worked their way out as the production went along. I’m not trying to be morbid, but I had a fantastic seat for Ken’s coughing fit in the second act and Mr. Dieudonne pulled it off well.    

(L-R) Michael Kharfen (Orson Welles), Leta Hall (Vivien Leigh), Kenneth Matis (Sean)Harvey Levine
(L-R) Michael Kharfen (Orson Welles), Leta Hall (Vivien Leigh), Kenneth Matis (Sean)

Silver Spring Stage is the perfect location for a show of this subject matter because the show itself takes place in the bowels of two theatres. The first act takes place at The Gaity Theatre in Dublin, Ireland and the second act takes place at the Royal Court Theatre in London, England. Everyone involved in props and decorations for the set did a marvelous job of using pieces from the era to create an authentic looking theatrical rehearsal space. If one were to feel the urge to take a walk down the bright, yet unsettling, drama-filled halls of an old theatre or Hollywood studio; this production gives you that opportunity.  It’s definitely an opportunity everyone should take but remember to fasten your seat belts, ‘cause it could be a bumpy night!

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission

Orson’s Shadow plays through January 31, 2015 at Silver Spring Stage— 10145 Colesville Road in Silver Spring, MD. For tickets please call the box office at (301) 593- 6036 or purchased them online.


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