Interesting article from today's NY Daily News,
At last, 'Orson'
makes it all Welles
By M. GEORGE STEVENSON
DAILY NEWS WRITER
When they worked on Mike Nichols' "Catch-22" in 1969, Orson Welles drove Austin Pendleton insane.
"I thought, what is the mystique? I mean, 'Citizen Kane' is a very clever, sharp movie. But why are we bowing down to this man and letting him wreck scenes when he's done one great movie and, for a man of his talent, a lot of extraordinarily bad acting?"
So how did Pendleton - the character actor who originated the role of Motel the Tailor in "Fiddler on the Roof" in 1964 and was the voice of Gurgle in "Finding Nemo" - come to spend three years writing the highly sympathetic comedy "Orson's Shadow," now at the Barrow St. Theater?
"After I came back from doing the movie, I began to see at revival houses all of Orson's other movies, which blew me away," Pendleton says. "And then ["Catch-22"] came out and in all the interviews I'm this smart-ass young actor saying things about Orson. I felt bad about that for years afterward."
So when the chance came to write a play about the relationship between Welles and fellow acting legend Laurence Olivier, Pendleton seized it as a way of dealing with his guilt.
Where Pendleton's other plays, "Booth" and "Uncle Bob," were dramas of family conflict, "Orson's Shadow" is about famous people thrown together and trying to turn a situation to their own advantage - a kind of high-culture version of "The Surreal Life."
Welles directed Olivier in a 1960 production of Ionesco's "Rhinoceros" - and never worked in the theater again. That same spring, Olivier left Vivien Leigh, the manic-depressive star of "Gone With the Wind" and his wife of 20 years, for his "Rhinoceros" co-star, Joan Plowright.
"There are people like this in all walks of life," Pendleton says, "but our profession just encourages it like a petri dish: people who will do anything to succeed and people who will do anything to fail. And they are fascinated and terrified by each other.
"It's very ambiguous, what really happened, but it's clear that Orson was made to feel unwanted, which has a resonance for all of us."
Pendleton says just to be around Vivien Leigh spooked Olivier - "and yet he was very attracted to her at the same time.
"He was one of those people who said, 'No, I am not going to be pulled down. I'm going to keep on working and living my life and trying to fulfill my potential.'"
The final piece of the puzzle was Kenneth Tynan, the Oxford prodigy turned New Yorker critic and the man who pulled together the erotic theater piece "Oh!Calcutta!" Tynan's hero worship of both Welles and Olivier proved helpful, Pendleton says. "Everybody is a starf--er and we can all relate to that part of him, someone who just wants to be close to these great talents."
"The play, among other things, is gossip. Plays are dish, let's face it. And they should be - certainly plays about actual people. Even the history plays of Shakespeare - you can't reduce them to that, but the dish is what the appeal rests on."