Theatre 40 of Beverly Hills presents the west coast premiere of THE CONSUL, THE TRAMP, AND AMERICA’S SWEETHEART, a comedy by John Morogiello about a former silent star turned movie mogul, another silent star turning toward “talkies”, and a foreign council whose position is to make sure that Hollywood is treating its ruling political party is a respected light.
The time is 1939, the period when Hollywood was at its peak. At the offices of United Artists run by Mary Pickford (Melanie Chartoff), an unexpected visitor arrives by the name of George Gyssling (Shawn Savage). He isn’t an actor nor does he have a screenplay to sell. He serves as the official council of the Third Reich, a German political party that is building in strength in Europe. Rumor has it (or at least according to Hedda Hopper’s newspaper column), that UA is to film a picture called The Great Dictator starring Charlie Chaplin (Brian Stanton). This feature will be the first where Chaplin actually speaks, and won’t be playing the “little tramp”. Pickford’s secretary Esther Hollombe (Laura Lee Walsh) tries to stop Gyssling in barging in. But he is there not only to halt Pickford in shooting this film, but threatens to ban any UA releases in Germany, Austria, and other territories that the Nazi party plans to take over. So a meeting is held between the three that will decide the fate of this movie, and perhaps UA itself. Will this film become Chaplin’s greatest pic of all time? Will Gyssling get his way to stop a picture that will make fun of Der Führer? Will Pickford risk to lose part of their European market? And how will Esther become part of this mess?
This one act play is a very comical look at the best of “old Hollywood” when studios were run by actual people that once made and/or starred in films, rather than bigwigs that came from business or law school. The cast of four that appear in this play fit the bill when it comes to movie stars and the like of the era, as well as the innocent bystander that can really change things, along with the “bad guy” that really might make that difference! Out of the four, Brian Stanton as Charlie Chaplin is perhaps the best one of them all, playing his character in a very animated fashion. His portrayal of this one time silent star of two reel comedies is nearly perfect, if not entirely perfect! Jules Aaron directs this program in a very tight method where the comedy and action never buckles down for one moment!
Along with the action as seen on stage is the set where all of the comedy and movement takes place. Theatre 40 resident set decorator Jeff Rack creates a setting depicting Mary Pickford’s office space that is more akin to an executive suite, complete with classic antiques and other pieces that were in vogue when Chaplin and Pickford were acting without using words, or at least speaking them!
Overall, this production at Theatre 40 is just as comical as one can get. The Hollywood from this bygone era has a lot to take note about. It’s a period that won’t be ever coming back either, so it’s nice to see a depiction of the period when Tinseltown, USA really shined through! But then again, that’s just show biz!