From the beginning, opinions were divided about Federico Fellini. The man who famously quipped, “My mother wanted me to become a priest; instead, I became an adjective,” aroused more than his share of resentment and set a high standard for directorial self-assertion. Regardless of what one thinks about the man’s unabashed egotism, his films remain a monumental testament to his unique and at times overwhelming vision. Unlike, say, Quentin Tarantino, Fellini didn’t just become an adjective — he invented becoming an adjective.
For Jeff Mills, the actor, director, and producer of La La La Strada, a new theater piece that plays four performances at Center Stage Theater from Sunday-Friday, February 22-27, Fellini has been an enduring influence because of what Mills sees as Fellini’s “multilayered, laminated approach to making stories.” Despite this emphasis on his approach to form, the great director’s personality inevitably enters into any attempt to represent his world. In La La La Strada, Fellini comes to life as a puppet, the only puppet in a cast with 12 actors. It’s a vivid and charming conceit — the one who pulls the strings and orders everyone around is in fact operated by as many as three people who rotate through the task of puppeteer, depending on the scene. The show was developed in part through Mills’s Senior Movement Project class at UCSB, where he teaches in the theater department. Fellow UCSB faculty member Christina McCarthy made the Bunraku-influenced puppet and will act in the show alongside a cast that also includes Dillon Yuhasz. Piano Kitchen’s maître d’ James Connolly created the original music.
Not content merely to produce, write, direct, and act in a single show, Mills felt compelled to turn this simple and fantastical piece into the anchor event in a festival of plays targeted at people who love movies. Eva Magyar will perform her one-woman show Marlene: The Competition on Monday, February 23. This portrait of a Marlene Dietrich impersonator working in London circa 2014 fits supremely well with both Mills’s take on Fellini and the other show in the fest, Rosebud: The Lives of Orson Welles. Another solo, this time from Paradise Theatre in Chimacum, Washington, Rosebud promises to be an over-the-top, Orson-in-person experience. That’s at Center Stage on Friday, February 27, at 7 p.m. With La La La Strada coming on at 9 p.m. and running just an hour and five minutes, it would make a classic art-house double feature.
For tickets and information, call 963-0408 or visit centerstagetheater.org.