Now that the lost 40-minute film footage Orson Welles created for his production of the William Gillette farce, "Too Much Johnson," had been found, restored, presented and praised -- could an a stage production of Welles' vision happen?
Perhaps a Connecticut theater could step up to the plate.
After all, Welles created it in 1938 for a little summer theater in the Stony Creek section of Branford. (Most people know it as the former Stony Creek Puppet House.)
And the Hartford born-and died Gillette was one the country's most popular playwrights and leading actors of the late 19th and early 20th Century. (His most well known plays are "Sherlock Holmes" and "Secret Service.") The grand and eccentric home he created in Hadlyme, along the Connecticut River -- known as Gillette's castle -- is one of the leading tourist destinations in the state.
in 1938, Welles, then 23 and three years before he made "Citizen Kane," found the 1884 script's narrative clunky and had the idea of creating a short silent film shot in the style of a Keystone Cops comedy -- to begin each act.
But he didn't complete the work in time for the stage production's opening. The show, minus the film which explained much of the story, made little sense and the production was a disaster (though it was a box office success due to ticket sales before the show opened).
The production starred Josephj Cotton, Mary Wickes, Arlene Francis and Howard Smith, among pother members of the Mercury players. Muysic for the film was composed by Paul Bowles, who is most well known as the author of "The Sheltering Sky."
Welles planned to take the production to New York for his Mercury Theatre company. That never happened and he abandoned the project. A few months later he presented his famous "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast.
The newly found an restored film was warmly received when it premiered in Italy and the George Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y. earlier this month.
Which makes one wonder: Could a major theater -- with the resources and dramaturgical where-with-all -- create a production in Connecticut the way Welles originally envisioned it, or relatively close to that vision? Is this a project for Hartford Stage, Long Wharf Theatre, Yale Repertory Theatre, International Festival for Arts & Ideas or the Westport Country Playhouse (the latter was in operation at the time). Or try out the production in workshop at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center to see if it;s viable?
It would be a project at least to consider. It certainly would receive national and international attention. And just perhaps it could celebrate both a legendary Connecticut playwright and a genius of the stage and screen.
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