Even if you haven't seen Orson Welles' film Citizen Kane, you probably know that it centers on a quest to find out what a rich and powerful man's dying word, "Rosebud," means. Thunderbird Theatre Company's Aaah! Rosebud gets the whole who-is-Rosebud thing out of the way early so that it can get to the heart of the story one man's thirst for power, aided by an evil sled that possesses people and turns them into an army of zombies. Really, isn't that what America is all about?
Directed by Dylan Russell and written by KFOG news director Peter Finch, who also plays a Canadian curling aficionado and a towering hired goon, Rosebud takes a little while to build up but just gets funnier and funnier. There's actually less about zombies than curling, in which stones are swept down a rectangle of ice with brooms. The forces of good are represented by intrepid reporters, dedicated curlers, and the prewidowed fiancée of a curler cut down by a murderous sled.
On opening weekend the sound system's hum often drowned out accompanying music, but some of the best elements of the show lie in technical workarounds such as a remote-controlled curling stone and using a strobe to suggest a flickering newsreel.
Jason Harding is a delight as Kane, with a hilarious fiendish smile, maniacal laugh, and a resonantly retro delivery with more Sydney Greenstreet in it than Welles. Faith Aeryn also has a great old Hollywood look and sound as ingénue Margaret. Nathan Tucker and Maria Ross make amusing zombies, and Emma Fassler is adorable as the littlest curler, Shemp.
Pretty much everybody gets a priceless moment, from Shay Casey as curler-with-a-secret Buddy to Rob Herrmann as the obit writer who opens this can of zombie worms. Matt Gunnison looks younger in his bad gray wig as the elderly narrator than he does in flashbacks as his youthful self, rattling off tongue-twisting alliterative phrases with rat-a-tat-tat ease. Jeremy Cole's bitchy queen Goldfarb starts as stereotype but gradually becomes a highlight of the show.
The script is packed with great lines poking fun at its own gaping plot holes, and includes some great pseudoprophetic digs at some of the low points of Kane inspiration William Randolph Hearst's legacy. After three weeks at SF's New Langton Arts, the show moves to the Julia Morgan Center for Thunderbird's Berkeley debut. It'll be an adjustment from its current tiny black box, but appropriate in its way: Morgan was the principal architect on Hearst Castle, after all.
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