Theater Preview: A “Once in a Lifetime” Production

Liana Van Nostrand, ‘16

Four times a week the auditorium buzzes with enough action and hum to rival a Hollywood soundstage as the cast and crew of Once in a Lifetime prepare. Several actors might rehearse a scene on stage with Director Professor Tibbels, while others are measured for costumes, practice their accents, learn lines, work with a fellow actor, or learn blocking with Assistant Director Vanessa Loja. This play, set in the 1920s in Hollywood, features a look at show business during the transition from silent films to talkies. During the roaring 1920s, everything was over the top and glamorous. The show’s large cast will bring the production to life. The cast features nineteen students playing thirteen lead roles and over seven supporting roles.

The show focuses on vaudeville performers Jerry Hyland (Conrad Taylor, Nadim Silverman), May Daniels (Melina Finck, Gabriella Gonzales), and George Lewis (David Bodt, Jonathan Kantor) who decide to leave their failing act behind and head west to Hollywood, where they hope to capitalize on the rising popularity of talkies. Although none of them have elocution training, they plan on operating a vocal training school for former silent film stars.  On the train west they meet esteemed critic Helen Hobart (Niki Rice), aspiring actor Susan Walker (Hanna Shykind, Ilia Widman), and her mother Mrs. Walker (Elise Graham). Helen introduces them to famous producer Herman Glogauer (Francesca Craft) who is surrounded by a host of Hollywood characters like his secretary, Miss Leighton (Ksenia Matthews), an aspiring actor who wears evening gowns to work; Lawrence Vail (Halle Hewitt, Tessa Murphy), a playwright who is almost a permanent fixture in his waiting room; Rudolph Kammerling (Ada Wolin, Emily Van Bloem), a famous German director; Ernest (Luis Lozano), the head butler; and his beautiful silent film stars with headache inducing voices, Phyllis Fontaine (Sarah Davis) and Florabel Leigh (Tatiana Jorio).  

Even though they work behind the camera, Jerry, May, and George do a lot of acting. The trio masquerade as more experienced than they are in order to secure jobs. George even lands a job directing, for which he is unqualified. Hanna Shykind, Y1, remarks that the show emphasizes how those “who are the stupidest and the most airheaded are often the most successful” and points to reality television stars, like Kim Kardashian, as modern day embodiments of this theme. Hollywood during the roaring twenties exemplified the height of excess and luxury, much as it still does today. This satirical insight into the emergence of talkies is extremely funny. Audience members should anticipate a change of pace from last semester’s emotional and tense August: Osage County. Although some of the faces will be familiar, this semester’s production is all about comedy.

Vanessa Loja, Y1, explains that “everything has to be funny.” The cast has worked particularly hard to use physical comedy. All movement is intentional and motivated by the characters’ objectives. Blocking is employed to play the tension between characters and demonstrate their relationships to one another. Audiences will be entertained by Phyllis and Florabel’s nasal voices, as well as Gloguaer’s James Cagneyesque one. Beyond crafting their characters,  many actors face the challenge of sharing a role, or not knowing who their scene partners will be because some of the roles are double cast, meaning different actors will play them on different nights.

To see all of the talent BHSEC has to offer, an audience member will have to see the show more than once.  However, with an emphasis on comedy and the glamour of show business, the show promises to be lively look back at the dawn of Hollywood’s golden age. Flapper-inspired costumes by Wendy Kahn will transport audience back to a glamorous bygone era.  Ilia Widman, Y2, describes the show as a “rich, satirical whirlwind;” thanks to the hard work of the cast and crew, the production is near guaranteed to live up to that description. In 1930, when the play was first staged, it served as a humorous diversion for Depression Era audiences. In the same spirit, students and faculty are encouraged to treat themselves and take a break from end of year stresses by attending this production.  

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