Once in a Lifetime – when sound came to the silents!

Once in a lifetime one gets a chance to watch a play written by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman. Only the lucky see it mounted as magnificently and as well acted as the ACT production of this classic. Set at he time when “talkies” exploded on the scene and led to the rapid decline of vaudeville, the play tells the story of three vaudevillians who leave the New York stage scene and go West, because that is where all the action will henceforth be. They pose as voice coaches, because, they reason no one who came from the silent era can actually speak! The play leads us on a crazy run through the insane studio culture, and the madness of movie-making in Hollywood. Jerry, May and George are first seen in a seedy little hotel room, then in a train going across the country, and finally working for Herman Glogauer at the Glogauer studios.

The studios have playwrights who are paid but never asked to write a word, nor is anything they write read! Pages flit in and out and dramatically flash placards telling us which studio executive is on which lot. There are actresses who cannot speak, an aspiring dumb blonde, a crazy receptionist, and the dumbest of the trio – George unwittingly becomes Glogauer’s second in command and produces a film that happens to be the wrong script! He cracks nuts all through the filming and often lights are not turned on during filming. Hailed as a genius ahead of his time, he continues on with his misadventures that all turn out right, a tongue-in-cheek take on what Hollywood stands for.

The play is directed deftly by Mark Rucker and the sets are astonishingly good. Acting is wonderful throughout as the same dozen or so actors enact the 40 add parts in the play. Standouts are Julia Coffey as May Daniels, Patrick Lane as George Lewis, and Rene Augesen as Helen Hobart. This one runs through October 16th at the American Conservatory Theater and should not be missed!


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