Theatre 40’s newest play – the west coast premiere of The Consul, The Tramp and America’s Sweetheart – written by John Morogiello, directed by Jules Aaron and produced by David Hunt Stafford is undoubtedly one of the best plays I have seen of late.
With memories of the depression still fresh in many minds, the rise of a socialist president (Roosevelt) led to pressure from right winged militia. These extremists donned brown shirts in sympathy with Germany as they shouted “America First” and talk about the “Jewish problem.”
Playing on the filmmakers greed for profit, Georg Gyssling (Shawn Savage), a Nazi enforcer, has heard that Charlie Chaplin (Brian Stanton) plans on a film “The Great Dictator” which will mock Hitler. He arrives the office of United Artists run by Mary Pickford (Melanie Chartoff) whom he believes has control over the studio and is confronted by her new receptionist Miss Esther Hollombe (Laura Lee Walsh).
Demanding that Chaplin’s film be stopped, Gyssling makes it clear that the studio will lose not only the German audience since all films must be reviewed by Hitler for positive messages regarding the dictator’s messages, but they will also lose most of Europe. Germany must control the media. (Sounds familiar.)
While Miss Hollombe banters with the German, she is forced to obey Mary and call in Chaplin to confirm his project and then end it. Mary is reticent, but is not surprised when the other studio heads vote that profit comes before principals. “We have to do what is best for the business,” she tells the upset secretary.
As Chaplin toys and battles with the Nazi, he is shocked at the result and learns that another reason Germany wants the film banned is because they believe he – made famous as the Little Tramp – is also Jewish. (He wasn’t.) But Gyssling also insists that Miss Hollombe, who is, be fired.
Only a final twist at the end saves Chaplin’s film, but the shocking truth is that many of the heads of the others studios – some who are Jewish – coward to the Nazi regime preferring profit to moral right without really understanding what they are doing. “Democracy you know. It’s the American way,” says Chaplin at the end.
Not only was the acting, directing and choreography superb , but pretty much historically – and sadly – accurate. This play wasn’t just a 10, it was a 12.
The set design by Jeff G. Rack was enhanced by the lighting done by Ric Zimmerman. Michele Young did the costumes while Judi Lewin did the hair and make-up. Fight choreography was performed by Michele Bernath while Joe “Sloe” Slawinski worked the sound. Richard Carner assisted with the stage management.
It’s a play that everyone should see.