Worth A Look

Orson Welles remembered, the Pear does 'Pygmalion,' slack-key guitar virtuoso

This week in Worth A Look, the recently renamed Stanford Repertory Theatre (formerly the Summer Theatre) celebrates the legacy of Orson Welles, with two plays and a free film series; and the Pear Avenue Theatre is staging a production of "Pygmalion," George Bernard Shaw's pointed critique of class divisions.

Film: Orson Welles festival

Orson Welles was just 25 years old in 1941, the year he released "Citizen Kane." The young Welles had co-written, produced and starred in the film -- no small feat, especially considering that it is often cited as the greatest movie ever made.

On June 30, the Stanford Repertory Theater (formerly the Stanford Summer Theater) will kick off its Monday night screening series "Orson Welles on Film" with a free showing of "Citizen Kane," accompanied by an introduction to the work by Peter N. Carroll, a history lecturer at Stanford.

The series will continue through Aug. 18, with a different Welles film each Monday. The series will feature "Othello," "Magnificent Ambersons," "The Lady from Shanghai," "Touch of Evil," "Chimes at Midnight," "The Trial" and "The Third Man."

The film series comes as part of a broader celebration of Welles and amid the Stanford Repertory Theater's first season under its new name -- which was changed because over the course of the company's 16 years, it has expanded from operating a summer festival at Stanford to working year round and traveling the globe, according to the organization's artistic director, Rush Rehm.

Rehm, who says he got into theater because of his love for Welles and his work, says he is excited to be focusing on the "titan" actor and filmmaker's work during this summer's festival, titled "Orson Welles: Substantial Shadows."

In addition to screening Welles' films, the Stanford Repertory Theater will also stage two plays -- "Moby Dick - Rehearsed," Welles' 1955 adaptation of the Herman Melville's epic novel, and "The War of the Worlds," a stage production of the famous 1938 radio play, which allegedly caused some Americans to believe that the country was actually being invaded by aliens when it was first broadcast.

It was "Moby Dick - Rehearsed" -- a play within a play about a cast rebelling against their director -- which made Rehm realize he wanted to pursue theater for the rest of his life. "To be able to come back and do it again is amazing," he says of staging the production, scheduled to open July 17 at Pigott Theater in Stanford's Memorial Auditorium.

Rehm is particularly excited with the casting of Rod Gnapp -- "one of the best actors in the Bay Area" -- as Ahab. "It's going to be a powerful thing," Rehm says.

"Orson Welles on Film" begins on June 30 and runs each Monday through Aug. 18; "Moby Dick - Rehearsed" opens on July 17; and "The War of the Worlds" is scheduled to kick off on Aug. 14. All of the screenings and plays will take place on the Stanford campus. For more information go to repertorytheater.stanford.edu or call 650-725-5838.

Stage: 'Pygmalion'

Though it's been more than a century since its debut in pre-war Europe, "Pygmalion," the classic George Bernard Shaw play (and the basis for "My Fair Lady"), is just as relevant today as it was when it was first performed, according to Diane Tasca, artistic director of The Pear Avenue Theatre.

"It has some surprising resonances with today's society," Tasca says of "Pygmalion," noting that the struggles of Eliza Doolittle, the play's female protagonist, are paralleled by the immigrant experience in today's society.

In "Pygmalion," Doolittle (played in The Pear production by Katie Rose Krueger), a poor flower girl from the East End of London, is taught to speak like an aristocrat so that she might pass for a duchess at a upcoming high-society gathering. Tasca imagines that many in the local immigrant community might feel some of the emotions Doolittle feels, as she is taught to abandon her Cockney slang and speak what amounts to a new language, so that she can enter a world she does not understand.

"It's like she's learned a new language," Tasca says of Doolittle. "She has lost her native language, and there is a sense of being between two worlds."

The play was meant to lampoon the regimented class system, which was in place at the time the script was written. While that world has largely "disappeared," Tasca notes that people are still judged and pigeonholed based upon speech patterns and dialects.

The way a person speaks can hint at their profession, their region of origin, and give clues about their level of wealth and education. And, in some cases, the way a person talks not only gives clues about where they're from, but also about where they can realistically go, Tasca notes.

Even though we live in "a much more multicultural society" than the world in which Doolittle lived, people can still be held back by something as seemingly trivial as the way they pronounce certain words -- there is still "a certain segmentation of our society."

At the same time, just because someone has an education, speaks in a manner deemed acceptable by the powers that be and is very capable, doesn't guarantee success. "Young people who graduated from college into the middle of the recession -- they're educated, they're prepared to think of themselves as professionals, but at that time there weren't the situations for them," Tasca observes. The Pear's artistic director is excited for the remainder of the play's run.

"Pygmalion" runs Thursday to Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. through July 13, at The Pear Avenue Theatre, 1220 Pear Ave., Mountain View. Tickets are $20 to $35. For more information go to thepear.org/pygmalion.html.


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