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Movies find their ‘voice’ in Thomas Jefferson High School’s play

Lucy Stratton, a student at Centreville High School, reviews “Once in a Lifetime” performed by Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology as part of The Cappies Critics and Awards Program.


Thomas Jefferson's Art Kulati, Nicole Boyd and Kevin Place. (Photo by Peter Klosky)

Glamorous events, sparkling stars, underappreciated writers—the film industry in its infancy was not too different from today’s Hollywood. Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHS) brought back the tumultuous era of moviemaking--a time when “talkies” (movies with sound) not only revolutionized the business, but also left silent movie stars and producers reeling. The satire, “Once in a Lifetime,” originally written by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, perfectly illustrates the bumpy transition from silent to talkie films.

“Once in a Lifetime” follows the adventures and mishaps of a trio of vaudeville actors—the ambitious Jerry Hyland, sassy May Daniels and the dim-witted yet endearing George Lewis—who try and strike it rich during the Hollywood gold rush of sorts. The initial scheme is to open a school of elocution and teach actors how to speak properly for film, but the unpredictability of Hollywood leads the group through a series of failures and successes that challenge the strength of their friendship.

The play had an array of enjoyable characters and witty dialogue. Many of the most memorable characters had short, but meaningful appearances. Rudolph Kammerling (Tim Yuan) was a true crowd pleaser with his absurd and exaggerated accent. The two silent actresses, Phyllis Fontaine (Elena Lagon) and Florabel Leigh (Alison Kosmacki), perfectly complimented each other with their hoarse and shrill voices. The Cigarette Girl played by Christina Jacobs may have been the most memorable ensemble character if only because people tend to remember a good laugh.

TJHS’s supporting cast highlighted the three lead actors. The dynamic of the iconic trio was entertaining and heart-warming, but the true star of the show was captured in the character of George Lewis (Art Kulati). The opening of the show suggested that Kulati would be confined to a mere comic relief role to offset the drama of Jerry Hyland (Kevin Place) and May Daniels’ (Nicole Boyd) relationship. Kulati portrayed Lewis as simple-minded, but charming. The ultimate satire of the show was that in Hollywood the most successful are the least qualified, most inarticulate, blundering simpletons—a case that Kulati’s character almost single-handedly made.

The set, designed by David Ensey and Albert Tholen, was versatile in design, and effective in portraying the variety of scenes. Andrea Yun’s lighting, especially in the convincing train scene, also gave the production depth. Transitions between scenes were brief and smooth, despite a few stage crew glitches. The acting seemed to compensate technical issues, and technicians smoothed over some performance shortfalls.

TJHS’s “Once in a Lifetime” captured the spirit of the evolving 1920s movie industry with timeless characters, who were equally compelling when they were blabbering lines or acting in silence.

By Lucy Stratton, Posted by Mario Iván Oña  |  April 22, 2010; 1:41 AM ET
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The actress who portrayed May, Nicole Boyd, reminded me very much of Nicole Sullivan, who was a cornerstone of Mad TV. Both Nicoles have a gift for a wide range of facial expression.

The portrayals of Jerry and May in the first scene were dramatic and did an excellent job of establishing the premise, leaving the comfort of vaudeville for the film industry. At this point in the story line, I agree with the reviewer that the audience is left with the expectation that their romance and marriage will continue to develop, ultimately a source of pathos as the audience holds out hope for them.

Great show - leaves you thinking.

Posted by: pptcmember | April 22, 2010 10:19 PM | Report abuse

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