Fellini Fest brings three film-based plays to Santa Barbara

The cast members of "La La La Strada" are, from top left and clockwise, Erica Flor, James Connolly, Jeff Mills, Dillon Yuhasz, Dana Fox-Ortner, Blythe Foster, Christina McCarthy, Genevieve Anderson. Erin Davison

The cast members of “La La La Strada” are, from top left and clockwise, Erica Flor, James Connolly, Jeff Mills, Dillon Yuhasz, Dana Fox-Ortner, Blythe Foster, Christina McCarthy, Genevieve Anderson.
Erin Davison

Two of the best directors of the 20th century, and one of its most enigmatic actresses: that’s not the line-up of another film festival, but the five-day-long, three-play “FELLINIFEST,” the self-proclaimed “Live Theater for Movie Lovers.” With the Film Festival still in our minds, producer Jeff Mills (no relation to the author) is hoping cinephiles will be attracted to these three new plays at Center Stage Theater.

Mr. Mills has been a Fellini fan since seeing “La Strada” when he was a student at UCSB. “It just floored me. It catches you right from the first scene.” He caught as many films by the director as he could and in 2003 made Fellini the theme of his wedding. Films like the quasi-autobiographical “8?” make even more sense to Mr. Mills now — having been a part of Boxtales for years and starting up Proboscis Theatre, he now has loads of directing and producing under his belt.

Jeff Mills and Erica Flor (with puppet)

Jeff Mills and Erica Flor (with puppet)

“To put on this festival and put on this new play that I’m writing, directing and acting in, I feel a lot like the Mastroianni character in ‘8?,’ ” he laughs.

The fest kicks off with Mr. Mills’ “La La La Strada,” a tribute to the film that is also about its creation. Mr. Fellini becomes the main character going through the dark night of the soul, having to confront demons from his past before he can finish his film, including visits from a future version of his lead actress and wife, Giulietta Masina. The play combines live actors and puppets designed by Christina McCarthy and operated by Genevieve Anderson, along with music by Jim Connolly.

Mr. Mills says he’s “cobbled the play together” from his imagination, but also interviews with Anthony Quinn (who plays the strong man in the film), Ms. Masina and Mr. Fellini. “It’s a mixed bag with different threads,” Mr. Mills says of the hour-long play, which has been designed to tour theater festivals in the future. But Santa Barbara gets to see it first.

Before Mr. Mills settled on this version of “La La La Strada,” he had been considering retelling the story of the film as a two-person show with Eva Magyar, the Hungarian actress he had met as part of a Lit Moon Theatre Company festival. She also directed Boxtales’ show based on African myths. Although Mr. Mills and Ms. Magyar never got to realize their original “La Strada” plans, Ms. Magyar was working on creating her own one-woman show devoted to German immigrant turned silver screen star Marlene Dietrich, called “Marlene: The Competition.”

Ms. Dietrich’s story struck a chord with the Hungarian actress, because she too had left her own home country to pursue acting and had to make her way in a culture that felt alien, and both played on their “mysterious” nature.

Another one of Mr. Mills’ associates is Erik Van Beuzekom , who lives up near Seattle and has taught Mr. Mills swordplay and other weapon work for the stage. He’s also a great actor with his own one-man show devoted to the enigmatic director of “Citizen Kane,” “The Magnificent Ambersons” and “Touch of Evil,” Orson Welles. The man was a force of nature and Mr. Van Beuzekom brings the director to life, somewhere after the success of “Citizen Kane” and beyond.

“Rosebud: The Lives of Orson Welles” has had a successful run in Seattle and other cities and a trailer can be found online where one can check out Van Beuzekom’s Welles.

“He looks just like him,” says Mr. Mills. “He finds the essence of Welles and the emotional life. It’s not an impersonation.”

The original advertisements also listed a fourth show, a reading of a new play by Michael Bernard about Santa Barbara’s Flying A Studios, but Mr. Bernard’s schedule did not allow it. (It will return in the future in a different form.) Still, the three shows are sure to sate the film lover looking for some kind of Hollywood fix.

When: 7 p.m. Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday;
9 p.m. Friday, February 27 (“La La La Strada”);
7 p.m. Monday (“Marlene: The Competition”);
7 p.m. Friday, February 27 (“Rosebud: The Lives of Orson Welles”)
Where: Center Stage Theater, Paseo Nuevo
Cost: $28 general, $23 students/seniors
Information : (805) 963-0408, www.centerstagetheater.org

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