ROSEBUD: THE LIVES OF ORSON WELLES (UK) by Mark Jenkins, directed by Josh Richards. Harbourfront Centre's Studio Theatre (235 Queens Quay West). Through Sunday (April 17), Thursday-Friday 8 pm, Sunday 2 pm. Q&A Friday 4 pm. Rating: NNNNN
Hollywood is filled with tragic tales, but is there a life more Shakespearean in its rise and fall than that of Orson Welles?
From his early successes in radio and film - War Of The Worlds and Citizen Kane by his mid-20s - to his later box office flops and his final humiliating tacky TV commercials for bad wine and frozen peas, Welles seems a classic case of the artist who never fulfilled his promise.
"His rise was absolutely meteoric," says Mark Jenkins, whose Rosebud: The Lives Of Orson Welles comes to World Stage via an off-Broadway run and a tour of England after sweeping the prizes at last year's Edinburgh Fringe.
"So my initial thought was, 'What the hell do I do for the second act?'" says Jenkins from his home in Wales. "What's left at the end is Welles's inner integrity, his principles and beliefs. He achieves true greatness through his self-reliance and determination to make the art he believes in, even if it means financing it with commercials."
Jenkins and director Josh Richards draw liberally from Welles's work and life. But the author also sees various Shakespearean characters in the man.
"There's a Lear-like tragic quality in the second act," Jenkins points out. "In Citizen Kane, Welles picked on the biggest bully in the playground, William Randolph Hearst. What's ironic is that he became as isolated in his self-imposed exile as Hearst."
At the same time, Jenkins sees the former titan as a Falstaff figure, with a huge appetite for food and life. At one point in the play, Welles balloons in size while reciting a list of cakes and pastries he used to eat in Vienna.
"It's as if he was compensating himself for the things he might have achieved," says Jenkins. "He consoled himself with eating and drinking, and at the same time was disgusted by it."
Of course, a show about Welles wouldn't work without a good performer. All the reviews mention the work of actor Christian McKay, who finagled an intro to the writer.
"I was so completely taken by his resemblance to the young Welles," says Jenkins. "But it went beyond the surface. He has the same kind of intellect as Welles. He's a voracious reader. He's a polymath. He knew far more about Welles than I did."
This year's World Stage festival proves that one isn't the loneliest number. Subtitled Flying Solo, it features more than 20 one-person productions from around the globe. For the first time ever, the whole fest takes place at a single locale - Harbourfront Centre. And you can’t beat the $25-or-less ticket price. Here’s NOW’s spotlight on some of the best of the fest.
The World Stage Flying Solo festival, a three-week international theatre, visual arts and literary fest presented by Harbourfront Centre at various venues on Queens Quay West. (See NOW's related listings sections for specific events.) Runs to May 1. Mainstage shows $25; Kafka And Son $15; International readings $8; some events free. 416-973-4000, www.harbourfrontcentre.com/worldstage.