Burbage Brings the Laughs Through Orson’s Shadow


Satirical Comedy Comes to the Artist’s Exchange

There truly is a wonderful gaggle of talented actors in Rhode Island. And they’re not just at the “professional” venues; they are everywhere. Orson’s Shadow, by Austin Pendleton, is currently playing at the Artists’ Exchange on Rolfe Street in Cranston and it provides a vehicle to showcase the character and comedic talents of some of these fine actors. Presented by the Burbage Theater Company, Orson’s Shadow is chock full of silly delights.

Jeff Church and Alex Duckworth, co-founders of the Burbage Theater Company, star in the play as Sir Lawrence Olivier and Orson Welles, respectively. Orson’s Shadow is loosely based on real events, set in 1960 London at the Royal Court Theater, and pits the two giant talents, with even larger egos, against each other. Welles attempts to direct Olivier in Eugene Ionesco’s absurdist play, Rhinoceros. The plan is for this collaboration to be a brilliant come back for both men, instigated by Welles’s dear friend, New York critic Kenneth Tynan. Tynan is played by Nathaniel Lee, who gives a fine, understated performance. However, their situation plays more like a comedy of errors.


In Pendelton’s entertaining script, Kane has already faced the question of what to do after great success, since Citizen Kane was the zenith of his career at the age of 26. He is now 45. The young stage hand Sean (Andrew Iacovelli) is a sore reminder that a younger generation may already have forgotten Welles’s achievements. Olivier realizes his performing days are numbered, underlined by a wretched, nearly slapstick attempt at remembering his lines. To assuage his ego, Olivier has taken up with an ingénue, Joan Plowright, played with sweet charm by Allison Crews. However, Olivier’s wife, the great Vivian Leigh of Gone with the Wind fame, keeps close tabs on him. Valerie Westgate is marvelous as the aging, admittedly mentally unstable, seductress.

Church and Duckworth bring amazing energy and humor to the geniuses they portray, sparing and jabbing at each other and anyone else who moves. Orson’s Shadow is a laugh-a-minute, satiric take on the foibles, insecurities, superstitions and admitted frailties of those in the performing arts. Film and theater folks both will see themselves, or someone they know well, mirrored on stage.

The only distracting item is the fat suit worn by Duckworth as Welles. I did see an early preview, and perhaps more attention will be paid to smoothing out the awkwardness. For those who have never carried extra pounds, it is difficult to appreciate the effort it takes to move. But the comedy comes fast and furious with expert timing and pauses in the just the right places.

Orson’s Shadow continues at the Artists’ Exchange, 50 Rolfe Street in the Black Box Theater. Performances are May 29 through 31 at 8pm and June 5 through 7 at 8pm. Call 401-490-9475 for tickets.
For more information about the show or the Burbage Theater company, please visit or check them out on Facebook.