“Once in a Lifetime,” by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman, the latest offering by Acme Theater Company, at the Veterans Memorial Theater, is a huge show. There are some 84 characters listed on the program. Some actors play more than one role, but there is still a dizzying number of actors.
In his director’s notes, Director Dave Burmester explains that more than one-third of the cast is new to the company and more than half the cast has been in no more than two Acme shows. This would explain the unevenness of the performances, a situation that was to be expected this year, with the company having lost so many experienced actors when they graduated from high school last year.
The leads in this fast-paced comedy are very strong; the supporting players need to work on projection and timing, something that will come as they get more experience under their belts, if Acme history is any indication.
This is also a huge show with respect to sets (designed by Burmester), some of which are very large, unwieldy pieces, difficult to move around the stage, which slows the pace of the show many times. Thought should also have been given to better placement of the blacks backstage, as actors can be seen waiting for their entrances.
That said, however, let’s look at the good. This very funny three-act satire takes place in the early days of the motion picture industry, just as Al Jolson’s “The Jazz Singer” has revolutionized the business by making movies talk and creating an instant need for people who are ready and able to jump into the new technology.
George, May and Jerry (Dara Yazdani, Maddy Ryen, and James Henderson) are out of work vaudevillians, down to their last $158 with no prospects for work in sight. Jerry convinces his partners to go to Hollywood to seek their fame and fortune.
James Henderson’s performance as Jerry fairly sizzles. Jerry is the money man, the idea man, the one who has the enthusiasm he wishes to impart to his partners. Henderson has the energy, the pacing, and the comic timing that the role requires and he’s very good.
Dara Yazdani’s laconic performance as George is perfect. George is a good-natured but rather slow-witted guy who becomes the most influential man in Hollywood through a series of lucky coincidences. Yazdani has a dry wit that gets the most out of the humor in his lines.
Maddy Ryen is the tough-talking practical May, in love with Jerry. Her character has some of the funniest lines, which Ryen delivers in a sardonic, deadpan manner. May finds little to bring excitement to her life.
Betsy Raymond as the gossip columnist Helen Hobart was marvelously over the top and a delight.
Madelyn Ligtenberg as Susan Walker, the ingenue who comes under George’s wing, was suitably marginally talented, the girl who wants to be a star, but doesn’t quite have it. Ligtenberg ably brought those characteristics to the role.
Marianne Lagarias is Susan’s mother, a somewhat clueless woman who never changes her costume and who tags around after Susan, not quite sure why she’s there. Lagarias does a good job.
Andrew Conard gave a strong performance as Herman Glogauer, the head of the studio, his performance reminiscent of a young Howard Hughes.
Anthony Pinto was hilarious as the manic director Rudolph Kammerling, the stereotype of every foreign-born director who has ever been characterized in film comedies. He never failed to elicit laughs from the audience.
Julieanne Conard and Laura Flanigan are Phyllis Fontaine and Florabel Leigh, two silent screen actresses who are going to be out of work unless May’s school of elocution can refine their voices to be fit for audience ears. The two are quite funny.
In the small role of the cigarette girl, Rachel Cherones caught my eye. There was not enough substance to her character to really assess, but she had that “certain something” in her brief time on stage.
Costume designer Randi Famula did a great job in creating the feel of the 20's-30's, especially in the night club scenes.
This is not the strongest Acme production I’ve seen, but it’s an enjoyable one that is full of laughs and worth seeing.