Monomoy Ends Season With Madcap 'Once In A Lifetime'

By: Joan Aucoin

Gavin McNichol as George Lewis and Mary Berthelsen as Helen Hobart in “Once In A Lifetime” at Monomoy Theatre. JESUS LOPEZ PHOTO

The Monomoy Theater Company under Terry Layman's astute direction concludes a remarkable summer season of live theater with "Once In A Lifetime," Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman's comedic expose on the vice and folly of Hollywood's film industry on the eve of talking pictures (1928).

In a cosmos of great pretenders, where stars align and misalign in a universe radiating energy, the show's
beguiling theme creates an appealing finale for cast, crew, production staff, and audience. Even on the cusp of new technology challenging the popularity of live entertainment, sitting on top of the world may simply begin with an idea and a journey across the Plains.
Gavin McNicholl's polished performance as George Lewis, the best deadpan feeder in all of show business, leads a cavalcade of 30 talented performers including university theater arts students, Equity guest actors and beloved local community actors.  How ironic that McNicholl's George Lewis who mimes, mimics, and acts as the dim-witted vaudeville funny-man who outsmarts( but not intentionally) Hollywood's studio moguls to become accepted as a new genius of the film industry would coincide with the passing of comedy icon Jerry Lewis. McNicholl's grimaces, slapstick gestures, nut chomping delivery, and eternal optimism in playing the fool performed just to make us all laugh out loud together as one.  McNicholl is a powerful comedian. Jerry Lewis would be proud to see his antics and artistry continued.
Arlene Bozich's May Daniels and John Noble Barrack's Jerry Hyland rounds out the trio of fast-talking small-town theater comics who have sold their act to finance their train ride to Los Angeles with one goal in mind: cashing in on the new craze, talking pictures.  Actors will now have to use their voices.  Hollywood is in a panic.  A School for Voice Culture will be needed, and quite frankly, the trio needs the dough. Quite by chance, Miss Helen Hobart, the Goddess writer of Hollywood Happenings in over 203 newspapers, is on the same train headed west. Mary Berthelsen commands with charisma playing the gossip columnist who makes and breaks stardom at her whim while falling for May's con as an experienced European elocution teacher. Miss Helen arranges a meeting with Herman Glogauer of Glogauer Studios, the premiere film executive of his time, or so he thinks. You will love the Glogauer Studios sign!
Monomoy Artistic Director Alan Rust becomes the real deal Glogauer in the midst of a mammoth revolution, a new era of talking movies in a colossal and monumental characterization. Rust's stage presence presents an
indomitable Glogauer who can only be upstaged by the chowderhead  now titled Dr. George Lewis whose suggestions on Vitaphone efficiency leads to promotion to film supervisor. Lewis somehow makes the wrong picture
that is then well received by the public and press with rave reviews.  Following current trends no matter how absurd and non-sensical?  How can that be?
Laura Axelrod is delightful as a pretty dumb blonde star-to-be Susan Walker.  Ellen Fiske is Susan's stage mother, promoter, and travel companion.  Olivia Fenton plays the glitzy Miss Leighton, studio secretary in a glitzy cocktail dress and spike heels.  Bernard Cornwell becomes Bishop-a-bit-tipsy as the wedding scene filming progresses.  MichaelJohn McGann rules as the ultimate film director Rudolph Kammerling who yearns to return to his homeland.  Scott and Kathy Hamilton, Mark Pirolo, Todd Cashdollar, Wolfe Lanier, Gregory Rodriguez, Jon Matter, Brienna Notaro, Kelsey Cox, Marisa Budnick, Scott Burrows, Audrey Wilson,Bethany Rachel Weed, and Nicholas Dana Rylands play several appealing cameo roles, and deserve acknowledgment and appreciation. I pray I mentioned all.
Last but not least is Daniel Owens in the role of playwright Lawrence Vail, who literally goes mad in LaLaLand because no one at the studio has noticed him in his writing office.  In the original 1930 Broadway
run, George Kaufman not only directed but played Lawrence Vail himself, a role Moss Hart created to express his own personal jitters over clueless producers, directors, critics, and aspiring starlets on the threshold of a new technology.

Live theater in the 21st century continues to be treasured while surviving alongside today's techie trends.  We are indebted to the University of Hartford, Friends of Monomoy Theater and Rust and COO Jan Rust for living the dream bringing Broadway to Main Street, Chatham.