In this digital age, with movies streaming to our televisions, laptops and cell phones, the era in which silent films first became talkies may seem Paleolithic by comparison.
But Mark Rucker’s production of the screwball comedy Once in a Lifetime, at San Francisco’s A.C.T. through October 16, reminds us that Hollywood is just as zany today as it was in the 1920s.
This vintage Kaufman and Hart comedy is less-often produced than their classic farces The Man Who Came to Dinner and You Can’t Take It With You, but the production bubbles through its three acts with playful effervescence.
The cast of 15 plays 70 roles, centering on a trio of vaudevillians who set out for Hollywood to cash in on the talkies craze by teaching elocution-impaired actors how to speak. While the same turf was covered by the film Singin’ in the Rain, Once in a Lifetime is a more panoramic spoof of Hollywood ambition and insanity.
The leading trio channels acting styles of 1930s screwball comedies, with Julia Coffey as the smart, wisecracking May, John Wernke as the ambitious Jerry, and Patrick Lane as the adorably dim George.
Rene Augesen is great fun as gossip columnist Helen Hobart, and in a cross-dressing turn as officious studio secretary Miss Leighton, Nick Gabriel nearly steals the show.
For more Once in a Lifetime details and a video trailer go here.