Wednesday, 3 March 2004

Act One adapted from Moss Hart, March 3, 2004

Act One 
adapted from Moss Hart by Don Mackay  
La Mama at the Courthouse  March 3 to 13, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

An interesting life can be a rich basis for drama.

Writer/director, Don Mackay, based Act One, on American playwright and director, Moss Hart's autobiography of the same name. Simon Russell plays Moss Hart while Simon Mallory appears as almost everybody else.

The play spans 1916 (OK) to 1930 and is set in various American cities and, finally, Broadway. We witness Hart's rise from poverty in the Bronx  to theatre producer's office boy and fledgling playwright. After years writing unsuccessful dramas, in 1930 Hart becomes the darling of Broadway with his first comedy, Once In A Lifetime.

Mackay stops at this point rather than continue with Hart's rollicking success with The Man Who Came To Dinner, and You Can't Take It With You.

The trap with adapting a popular autobiography for stage is the temptation to include too much text and too long a time period.

The agonising development of the final script of Once In A Lifetime is the most compelling part of the play. The earlier period could be edited to give the same information more effectively.

Mackay uses Hart's own colourful narration and descriptions of characters such as George S, Kaufman,  heiress, Mrs. Harris and Moss' Aunt Kate.

Russell makes a meal of his role and skilfully compels us to listen to tracts of description of places and people.

He plays Hart as a bright, magnetic, intense, ambitious young man and drives the play forward with wide-eyed, direct address to audience between many short scenes. He has an uncanny way of making the audience feel he is looking each in the eye. 

 Meanwhile, Mallory sprints about, donning hats, ties, spectacles and feather boas to embody a parade of characters with great comic timing and an engaging presence.

The audience is fascinated not only by the characters but by Mallory's capacity to alter his persona rapidly and frequently. He captures the intense, intelligent and generous George S. Kaufman perfectly. His Mrs. Harris is charming and funny and Harris, the producer, provides a welcome change of rhythm.

Act One is a faithful and entertaining rendering of a fascinating life in the theatre.

LOOK FOR: Russell's hilarious old ham actor.

By Kate Herbert

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