Vienna: Old Comedy Finds New Audiences

Vienna: Old Comedy Finds New Audiences

Oakton High production of "Once in a Lifetime."

From left:  Hunter Carrico, Anna Goodin and Rob Warric in Oakton High production of “Once in a Lifetime.”

From left: Hunter Carrico, Anna Goodin and Rob Warric in Oakton High production of “Once in a Lifetime.” Photo by Doug Kutyna

— Gorgeous costumes, talking pictures, and two thousand airplanes -- what could this possibly be, you ask? Why, Oakton High School’s production of “Once in a Lifetime” of course!

“Once in a Lifetime” was written in 1929 by Moss Hart, and would turn out to be the first of many successes for the playwright. The comedy opens on three struggling vaudevillian stars: Jerry Hyland, May Daniels, and George Lewis. They are doing just fine trying to “make it” on stage, until Jerry sells their act in a sudden declaration that the real money is in talking pictures. The three head out to Hollywood, where they set up a school on the art of elocution, leading them to meet the gossip columnist Helen Hobart, narcissistic film mogul Herman Glogauer, and ditzy aspiring actress and George’s love interest Susan Walker. Through a series of misadventures and near failures, George shoots a movie with no lights, the wrong plot, and inaudible dialogue due to the sound of his cracking Indian nuts; yet he is declared a movie genius ushering in a new period of film.

The cast’s unwavering energy and vitality, along with perfectly timed sarcastic lines, brought this show to life. Each character in the sometimes crazy play was eccentric but still able to maintain his originality. Hunter Carrico did an excellent job of portraying George’s childish side, making a character that, despite his naivety, was somehow charming rather than ridiculous. His relationship with May Daniels, played by Anna Goodin, was almost that of a brother and sister. Goodin’s portrayal of May as the alpha-female and voice of reason radiated within the theatre. Max Torti did a great job as Lawrence Vail, a character who experiences the most extreme change of all, from that of a fed-up, slightly mad playwright to a calm man comforting May on the train.

The elaborate, period-specific costumes were a great success--fitting the characters perfectly. The over-the-top glitz of Helen Hobart’s sequined outfits, the transition from dowdy clothes to nice outfits for the three main cast, and the detailed cigarette girls’ skirts helped the audience better understand the characters and were truly a joy to see. Though at times it was hard to see the actors due to a combination of turned backs and not being in the light, the overall energy of all the characters and expressive faces made up for it. The play had many sets, something that would be daunting for most high schools, but not for Oakton. The various scenes, including a train car, Hollywood hotel, and film studio, were anchored by their detailed sets. The meticulous use of props, such as an old fashioned phone and real Indian nuts, did not go unnoticed by the audience. With the craziness of the many sets, costumes, and multiple characters speaking at once, “Once in a Lifetime” is a truly difficult production for a high school, but Oakton pulled it off effectively and with humor that resonated with the audience despite the fact that it was written nearly ninety years ago.