Theatre Ph.D. Dissertations

Staging Orson Welles

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Theatre and Film

First Advisor

Jonathan Chambers (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Stephannie Gearhart (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Cynthia Baron (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Scott Magelssen (Committee Member)


In this study I consider the legacy of Orson Welles as a stage figure puppeted in a collective theatre of memory. The study builds on Jonathan Rosenbaum's observation that Welles remains a "mythical and ideological creature" and a "site for the acting out of various fantasies." Referencing Marvin Carlson's The Haunted Stage and Joseph Roach's Cities of the Dead, I apply their insights to three plays that feature Welles as a pivotal character: Jason Sherman's It's All True, Austin Pendleton's Orson's Shadow, and the Naomi Iizuka-Anne Bogart collaboration, War of the Worlds. My central concern is to consider the ways we remember and stage Welles and, in light of Rosenbaum's insight, to also question the myths and ideologies those stagings act out.

A corollary to my interrogation of Welles's stage figure as a site of memory is my conviction that the collective memory of Welles's life and work might be staged more usefully. The plays considered approach Welles from different perspectives. However, all – to varying degrees – assess negative judgments. Welles's legacy has been subject to conflicting interpretations, and the arbitration of his historical and remembered significance is a process with important consequences. I raise these consequences and read the plays as evidence in the debate over what Orson Welles's figure signifies.

The introduction reviews the "Battle Over Orson Welles" and considers the source-texts that inform Wellesian stagings. The three middle chapters involve readings of each play, analyzing the playwrights and each script's source material in light of the scholarship of Carlson and Roach. The final chapter is a meditation on Welles's legacy. In it, I suggest alternative approaches to staging Welles's figure.

On balance, my study finds that Welles's is a crucial figure in the staging of collective and cultural memory. I end by considering Welles's as an anxious figure – an American artist incapable of compromise whose genius was rebuked in a culture dominated by marketplace values – and by suggesting that his troubled surrogation on our stages may owe, in part, to a collective urge to repress the knowledge that we have somehow failed him.