Theatre 40 is presenting the world premiere of The Consul, The Tramp, and America’s Sweetheart written by John Morogiello. Based on true facts, it is especially fitting for today’s political climate.
The play takes place in Mary Pickford’s (Melanie Chartoff) office at United Artists Studios. She, along with D.W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, and her husband Douglas Fairbanks, founded the Studio in 1919 in order to have control over producing and distributing their films. Both Pickford and Charlie Chaplin (Brian Stanton) were famous for their screen rolls as well. Of course, this was the silent movie era.
It is now 1939 and Chaplin was, perhaps, the most popular comedian during the silent film era due to his portrayal of The Little Tramp. Now he is about to embark on shooting his first talking picture entitled The Great Dictator.
Movies that were made at United Artists Studios were distributed in countries all over the world, and the world was in a precarious situation at this time as Hitler’s military was running amok throughout Europe.
The day before Chaplin is to begin shooting his picture, Mary Pickford’s newly hired secretary, Miss Hollombe (Laura Lee Walsh), is very irritated by the arrival of George Gyssling (Shawn Savage), the German Consul, who is demanding to see Mary. She does her best to hold him off, but Ms Pickford eventually allows him into her office. The purpose of his visit is to try to persuade Mary to stop Chaplin from making his movie because he fears it is being made to ridicule Hitler. She refuses to agree to do so until he threatens to ban American films in the German and Austrian market. She then tells him she will check with her partners and let him know.
Gyssling leaves and who should arrive but Charlie Chaplin himself? The ensuing struggle between all of the characters, from this point on, is some of the best theater you will ever see. Jules Aaron does a very fine job of directing a marvelous cast who suit their roles perfectly. Stanton’s portrayal of Charlie Chaplin is magnificent. Watching Savage as a member of the Nazi Party can make your skin crawl. Melanie Chartoff is a very cool Mary Pickford, which is how I suspect Pickford would have been in her position. And very talented Laura Lee Walsh, making her Theatre 40 debut, is delightful as Miss Hollombe as well as when she takes on other roles in the play.