Review: Aaah! Rosbud

Aaah! Rosebud: Citizen Kane Redux
By Albert Goodwyn
Published: August 30, 2007

Peter Finch’s comic retelling of the Citizen Kane story uses broad humor and satire to address – or maybe mock – some of the more pretentious aspects of the Orson Welles film. AaahI Rosebud, now at New Langton, makes the character from the film, a thoughtless, arrogant, morally bankrupt mogul, even more despicable. Here William Orson Kane is a maniacal murderer in his quest for power. He is aided by a magic sled that can turn people into zombies. The characterization, and the references to the film, are so overdone that the play becomes a farce in an enjoyable, manic hour and forty minutes.

Curling is an ice sport, and references to snow, ice and winter abound, so as to put the constant threat of contact with the malevolent sled Rosebud more in context. Curlers with their stones and brooms discover Rosebud in the snow, and one takes it to the top of the hill for a tragic downhill. The other actors watch the offstage action with a great sense of miming that artfully forgoes any pointing. When Kane discovers the evil sled, he decides to use it in his own quest for world domination.

As in the movie, a reporter is researching the meaning of the word Rosebud, and comes no closer than in the movie. But Kane keeps dragging his sled out to beat up enemies. Jason Harding’s portrayal of Kane is well focused and single-minded. His large stage presence gives great dramatic weight to the part on a simple two-level set in this black-box theater. When he affirms the powers of his sled at a Christmas fair, his snickering vividly illustrates the inflation of his ego. He even dances with it. Once he has killed two people with it and turned them into his zombie slaves, he begins to make plans to build his Xanadu palace.

The cast of twelve takes many entrances. The quick scene changes are sometimes heralded by the entrance of a shouting Newsboy (Z’ev Jenerik) holding up a newspaper, and sometimes by the entrance of Matt Gunnison as an ex-wife in a wheelchair, being interviewed by the reporter. Gunnison makes a couple of onstage quick changes into the character Jebidiah Stanford by doffing his wig as he leaps out of the wheelchair and onto the upper level of the set. His shift of characterization is flawless. The zombies turn into restaurant personnel without exiting, very convincingly. There Kane is involved in a fight with breadsticks and a very stale baguette. The zombies get to eat corpses.

The only character who seems in any way normal is Kane’s clerk Goldfarb (played this night by Jeremy Cole; usually by Dirk Echols). In the end, as Kane gets his comeuppance by the use of an H. G. Welles time machine and a curling stone, a superior being condemns him to going through the rest of his life with a snow-globe stuck to his hand, another movie reference. The superior being brings everyone back to life and seeks to cure them, even offering to turn the fey, achingly funny Goldfarb into a heterosexual. He refuses, saying, “Sorry. It’s who I am.”

Some post-modernists could see this as a morality play, with the zombies as a metaphor of vicious corporate slaves eating the fallen bodies after a business takeover, but there is such great, obvious fun being had by all the actors in this send-up of an American movie classic, that enjoyment is paramount in the viewing.

Aaah! Rosebud continues through September 8 at New Langton Arts, 1246 Folsom Street, San Francisco, then moves to Julia Morgan Center for the Arts, 2640 College Avenue, Berkeley, Sept. 21-22. Tickets ($20 to $25) are available by phone at (415) 289-6766 and online at

Also by the Bay Area Times: Review of Serve by Expiration!


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