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Updated Friday, December 7, 2012 at 07:01 AM

Orson Welles, Wonderettes and more on Seattle stages

By Misha Berson
Seattle Times theater critic

Not all shows on Seattle stages are wrapped in holiday tinsel. Here are our dispatches on a solo play about a great filmmaker, a rumination on B-movie paranoia, and, yes, a holiday girl-group musical:

‘Rosebud: The Lives of Orson Welles’

He reached his greatest triumphs before he was 30. Yet Orson Welles made a lasting contribution to the sophistication of American cinema, theater and radio.

Literally and figuratively, the abundantly gifted and emotionally complex Welles lived large. And in this touring one-man bio-play (written by Irish author Mark Jenkins) at West of Lenin, he takes on the dimensions of a Shakespearean protagonist.

Capably and engagingly enacted by Erik Van Beuzekom and directed by Pattie Miles Van Beuzekom (who run the Paradise Theatre School in Chimacum, Jefferson County), this profile of a man best known for his film “Citizen Kane” and sci-fi radio play “War of the Worlds” (and later for hawking frozen peas and wine ) covers a lot of terrain.

Van Beuzekom’s deep-voiced, rakish Welles is a witty narrator, interspersing his chronological account from privileged, precocious boyhood to cultural prodigy to frustrated celebrity, with fitting quotes from “Julius Caesar,” “Macbeth,” “Henry IV” — works Welles directed, and closely identified with.

His dazzling adventures as a cocksure Broadway/Hollywood boy wonder are covered (including his romance with Rita Hayworth). Then Act 2 of the swift-moving two-hour play turns to Welles’ steep decline, precipitated by the ire of publisher William Randolph Hearst — a model for the maligned lead character in “Citizen Kane,” and a mogul not to be messed with.

“Rosebud” becomes, no wonder, a sadder story, as Welles struggles to scrape up funds for low-budget films and expands his girth to Falstaffian proportions. As his archness sours into bitterness, the script glosses over his own part in the decline, buying into a glib notion of martyred genius.

In sum, however, “Rosebud” is both entertaining and informative. It might prompt you to watch “Citizen Kane” or “The Lady from Shanghai” for the first or umpteenth time, and you could do much, much worse.

Through Dec. 15 at West of Lenin, Seattle (800-838-3006 or www.brownpapertickets.com).

— Misha Berson, Seattle Times theater critic

‘Winter Wonderettes’

Unlike holiday shows that tug at your heartstrings, the only purpose for “Winter Wonderettes” is to tickle your funny bone. Director Troy Wageman and musical director Kimbery Dare make sure it does just that. It’s 1968 and the Wonderettes, four female employees at Harper’s Hardware Store, are staging the annual company Christmas party. Dressed in 1960s styles with bouffant hairdos and sparkly makeup, these mature ladies sing and dance to just about every pop Christmas song ever written. But since they are store personnel, not professionals, things often go awry. Songs are sometimes a little flat. The women often bump into each other. Props fall or don’t work. Decorations include paper snowflakes like you made in fifth grade. Wardrobe malfunctions occur. It’s all deliciously funny, especially when the audience is invited to participate.

Through Dec. 30 at ArtsWest, Seattle (206-938-0339 or www.artswest.org)

— Nancy Worssam, special to The Seattle Times

‘How They Attack Us’

There’s an interesting kernel of a play in actor-author Kevin McKeon’s black comedy, about how pop culture feeds into our American penchant for conspiracy theorizing and free-floating paranoia.

What’s missing is a tighter, more compelling frame to hang the topic on than the rambling three-way encounter evoked here among a terrified recovering drug addict, her former stepdad with his own streak of paranoia, and a couch potato cinephile with an encyclopedic knowledge of spooky B-movies like “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (which is screening in New City Theater’s lobby as you enter).

Why are Americans so susceptible to conspiracy fantasies, on-screen and in the political arena? Though the show is scattered with suspenseful moments and amusing tidbits of sociological theory, it is too loosely strung to give us the willies. Another draft or two might help.

Through Dec. 15 at New City Theater, Seattle (800-838-3006 or www.brownpapertickets.com)

— Misha Berson


Truman Buffett Photography
Erik Van Beuzekom stars in “Rosebud: The Lives of Orson Welles” at West of Lenin through Dec.15.




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