Capsule Reviews

Our critics weigh in on local theater

Orson's Shadow The magical land of great theater bubbles forth from the minds of titanic narcissists in Austin Pendleton's compelling Orson's Shadow. Now running at the Alley, the strange and funny play takes us back to the '60s, during the sunset years of theatrical monarchs Orson Welles (Wilbur Edwin Henry), Laurence Olivier (James Black) and Vivien Leigh (Elizabeth Heflin). Pendleton re-creates the fascinating rehearsals for Ionesco's Rhinoceros, in which stadium-size egos and beautifully broken hearts battle for a little bit of respect in a world that has all but forgotten them. The play opens on famous theater critic Kenneth Tynan (Jeffrey Bean) persuading Welles to direct Rhinoceros and to feature Olivier in the starring role. Now Tynan has to persuade Olivier to do the project with Welles, and the Alley's production picks up speed once Black's Olivier walks on stage. Wearing a pair of black horn-rims and a starched dark suit, Black is a flurry of frenetic and self-absorbed energy; he captures the grace and the unique body rhythm of Olivier. This is one of Black's best performances at the Alley in quite some time, reason enough to see the production. Another good reason: the opportunity to watch the rehearsals within the play. As directed by David Cromer, these delicious scenes capture the creative work that goes on behind the lights and costumes. There is something highly romantic in Pendleton's curious story about what happens to creative geniuses as they grow older. But because it is based on true events, the romance moves through the tale with an abiding melancholy. This production will linger in the hearts of those who revere artists and all they go through to make our lives richer. Through April 30. 615 Texas, 713-228-8421.

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