The Theatreguide.London Review
In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic
closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting
archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new
shows. Until things return to normal we review the experience of
watching live theatre
Lincoln Center and YouTube Summer 2020
playwright-director Moss Hart's partial autobiography was turned into
a delightful stage play by James Lapine and produced at New York's
Lincoln Center in 2014. It was recoded for broadcast on the American
Public Television network and is now streamed for home viewing.
Hart's story is of a
poor boy from Brooklyn introduced to the theatre
by a star-struck aunt. Forced to drop out of school, he fell into an
office boy job for a third-rate producer, wrote a play that actually
got as far as an out-of-town tryout before flopping, and wrote
another play that came to the attention of a real producer, who
teamed him with established playwright George S. Kaufman.
writing, rewriting and re-rewriting of Once In A Lifetime take up
almost half the memoir and the dramatisation, which ends on the
opening night that would change Hart's life. (Hart went on to a happy
and successful career as both playwright – The Man Who Came To
Dinner – and director – My Fair Lady – before dying at 57.)
dramatisation captures the happy atmosphere of
can't-believe-his-own-luck that Hart put into the memoir, making for
thoroughly upbeat and entertaining viewing.
His mode is to have two
narrators, the older, reminiscing Hart played by Tony Shalhoub
gradually giving way as Santino Fontana's younger Hart takes over
telling his own story, injecting it with the excitement of
In a delightful twist,
narrator withdraws just as George S, Kaufman enters the story,
allowing Tony Shalhoub to play that role as well.
James Lapine serves
as his own director, and it is clearly his intention to present it
all as a larger-than-life adventure, with every actor encouraged to
play broadly, turning their characters into the hyper-real versions
of themselves that a young man might see or an older man remember.
narrator, Tony Shalhoub's mode is entirely presentational, as a
genial tour guide to his character's life, while as Kaufman he is a
collection of tics, eccentricities and obsessive-compulsive
behaviours punctuated by surprising moments of kindness and
generosity to his overwhelmed collaborator.
Andrea Martin bravely
plays a trio of near-cartoon characters – the eccentric aunt, a
pushy agent and Kaufman's elegant wife – as near-cartoons, trusting
us to discover that she's not just overacting, but realistically
acting a heightened memory.
There are also passing
such Broadway monsters as Jed Harris, Dorothy Parker, Alexander
Woolcott and Harpo Marx, each artfully sketched in as a young man
would see them.
Holding it all together
is Santino Fontana's
wide-eyed innocent. Fontana has the difficult task of anchoring the
play in some kind of reality without being dull and colourless
compared to the rest, and he succeeds by creating a young Moss Hart
who is such an amiable and attractive guy that we wish the best for
him and take joy in all the good that comes his way.
The thoroughly professional television version – director Matthew Diamond – captures all the action and every nuance of performance, as well as a strong sense of being in the theatre.
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