At age 21, Orson Welles was already directing and starring in productions for the New York arm of the recently formed Federal Theatre Project. For his next show Welles wanted to direct a musical, choosing Marc Blitzstein’s The Cradle Will Rock, a piece with strong socialist sympathies at odds with current, rising Republican sentiment in the US.
Jason Sherman’s play depicts the backstage antics of this important period in American theatre that precipitated the closure of the FTP. Jumping straight into the action, his dialogue negotiates the necessary exposition with a keen sense of rhythm and he balances the serious complexities of theatrical censorship with deeply human issues of obsession and commitment.
Edward Elgood has the unenviable task of playing the young Welles and in all fairness he does an excellent job, drawing on the broader elements of Welles’ character to bring something of the exasperating genius to the stage. To contrast Welles’ theatrics, Sherman gives us the timid yet resourceful producer John Houseman, played with quiet dignity by Sam Child.
The human drama is accentuated by Ian Mairs as the tortured composer Blitzstein, haunted by the tormenting ghost of his dead wife, and the wonderful Elizabeth Guterbock as waspish socialite Virginia Welles, trapped in a rapidly declining marriage with a philandering workaholic.
Director David Cottis comprehends the nature of this work giving it the necessary momentum it requires, although low production values generally result in some truly excruciating mime that simply looks out of place and only serves to stall the flow of action.