I highly recommend this brilliant play, “The Consul, The Tramp, and America’s Sweetheart” now running at Beverly Hills Theatre 40. I had the privilege of seeing it last night. It is about when Mary Pickford was the head of United Artists, which was then a collaboration of independent artists and had Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, Skank, and D. W. Griffiths as the Board of Directors. John Morogiello’s play is based on the suggestion of true events about how Chaplin’s talkie, “The Great Dictator” almost did not get made.
Studio head, Pickford (Melanie Chartoff) is threatened by the German Consul, Gyssling (Shawn Savage) , who is a Nazi, to stop production on Chaplin’s “The Dictator” because it mocks Hitler and the Third Reich. Gyssling will block all United Artists films from the German and Austrian markets. And Gyssling will use the Hay Act to also block the films production if Mary Pickford does not stop it. Pickford, still reeling from her divorce from Fairbanks, is all about profit for her studio. Chaplin is about telling the truth. Gyssling does not want Hitler or the Third Reich made fun of.
This play was so satisfying on so many levels. There are parallels to our recent election. The elements of racism, anti Semitism, profit for the one percent, the shattering of the glass ceiling for women all come into play. It was fascinating to learn about the studio politics, the power Hitler could have had over the movie making industry, and also learning about the lives of Chaplin and Pickford. Morogiello’s finely written play won the Beverly Hills Theater Guild’s Julie Harris award for playwriting. One can see why. There are clever devices as stopping the action and having a replay as Ms. Hollembe reinvents the actions in her mind.
Melanie Chartoff was charming as Pickford, Brian Stanton gave us a delightful and deft Chaplin and Shawn Savage, who had a very good German accent, was commandeering and cold as Consul Gyssling. The story unfolded through the eyes of Pickford’s receptionist, Esther Hollembe well played by Laura Lee Walsh. The play was that good and chock full of Chaplin’s mannerisms and witticisms that I am going to see it again. There is a magnificent quote from “The Great DIctator” at the end. So timely! And what fine direction from Jules Aaron. He really brought Chalpin and that era to life. Jeff G. Rack’s set of United Artists was the perfect backdrop for the ensemble. And, Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski’s sound design further enhanced this fine production as did Michele Young’s costumes and Ric Zimmerman’s lighting design.
November 20, 2016