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Review: Fellini Fest at Center Stage Theater Fetes the Masters of Film

The stars of Jeff Mills’ original play “La La La Strada” for Fellini Fest 2015 included, clockwise from top center, Jeff Mills (with bass), Dillon Yuhasz, Blythe Foster, Dana Fox Ortner, Christina McCarthy, Genevieve Anderson, Erica Flor and Jim Connolly.
The stars of Jeff Mills’ original play “La La La Strada” for Fellini Fest 2015 included, clockwise from top center, Jeff Mills (with bass), Dillon Yuhasz, Blythe Foster, Dana Fox Ortner, Christina McCarthy, Genevieve Anderson, Erica Flor and Jim Connolly. (Erin Davison photo)

Federico Fellini is quoted as saying, “I realized that the cinema offered this miraculous double feature: You tell a story and while you are doing so you are living another one yourself, an adventurous one with people as extraordinary as those in the film you are making.”

Fellini Fest 2015, billed as “Live Theater for Movie Lovers,” is the creation of Jeff Mills and his Proboscis Productions, a beautiful reflection of Fellini’s words.

Presented at Center Stage Theater over a five-day period, the festival included Mills’ original play, La La La Strada, focusing on Fellini and his creation of the iconic film, as well as two one-person shows, Rosebud: The Lives of Orson Welles, and Marlene — the Competition. Unfortunately, the latter was not seen by this reviewer.

La La La Strada is a marvel — a pastiche of lurid and innocent, raucous and tender. Starting on the terrace outside the theater, the cast, in wild gypsy/pirate/circus garb (excellent costuming by performer Dana Fox Ortner) with clown-like face-paint, takes the gathered crowd by surprise, bursting into a rousing song celebrating their life on the road before leading the audience, Pied Piper-like, into the theater.

Under the brilliant direction of Mills, who also plays the surly strongman Zampano, this impressive ensemble demonstrates it equal mastery of broad physical comedy and dramatic, poignant moments. Mills has an uncanny ability to shine a light onto the seamier side of life in a way that exposes the beauty dwelling there in the darkness, the glitz of the midway rides giving way to a queasy sensation that in turn morphs into transcendence.

Fellini Fest
Actor Erik Van Beuzekom embodies Orson Welles with authenticity in Rosebud: The Lives of Orson Welles during Fellini Fest 2015.

Fellini himself is represented by a wondrous puppet, created by performer Christina McCarthy. All in tones of black and white, contrasting with the color of the rest of his world, and no more than 3 feet tall, he is dressed sharply in a pinstripe suit with hair slicked back just so. Even when being manipulated by two or three fully visible performers, he is clearly his own entity. Voiced in turn by Mills and Dillon Yuhasz, each bringing out aspects of his personality, and manipulated by them as well as McCarthy and other cast members, he is truly a commanding presence.

McCarthy herself is a joy to watch. Trained as a dancer, she is clearly relishing the opportunity to break free of the more formal strictures of the dance world and leap about, loose-limbed and impish.

Original music performed live by the highly talented Jim Connolly adds to the carnival atmosphere.

This is an absorbing and compelling production, and there is a rumor it will be mounted again in the future. Let’s cross fingers for this to come true.

From the Paradise Theatre School of Chimacum, Wash., comes Rosebud: The Lives of Orson Welles. Written by Mark Jenkins and directed by Pattie Miles Van Beuzekom, this is a wholly engrossing 90 minutes in which Erik Van Beuzekom embodies Orson Welles with an almost eerie authenticity, never wavering from complete embrace of this larger-than-life figure.

It’s as one might imagine sitting down with the legendary performer, writer and filmmaker, just hearing his stories. From his childhood as a lauded prodigy in the arts to his legendary War of the Worlds broadcast and creation of the iconic film Citizen Kane, to the subsequent public showdown between him and William Randolph Hearst, the tales flow like fine whiskey and are nearly as intoxicating.

Lesser-known episodes of his life, including his radical stage direction of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Macbeth, as well as his pro-union production of The Cradle Will Rock, round out this production, highlighting Welles’ innovative approach to the arts and his deep personal investment in the accomplishment of his vision.

As Welles says, “All art is autobiographical. The pearl is the oyster’s autobiography.”

— Justine Sutton is a Santa Barbara freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer. The opinions expressed are her own.

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