|Tony Shalhoub as George S. Kaufman and Santino Fontana as Moss Hart in a scene from “Act One.”
Photo by Joan Marcus
As James Lapine’s “Act One” opens, Moss Hart (Tony Shalhoub) looks back on his life and career. His Aunt Kate (Andrea Martin) comes home from the theater and argues with Moss’s father, Barnett (Shalhoub again) over money, while Moss’s mother Lillie (Mimi Lieber) placates their borders. Aunt Kate and young Moss (Matthew Schechter, who later also plays Moss’s younger brother Bernie) hatch a plan for Moss to skip school and join her at Thursday matinees. Schooling is a moot issue, since by the time Moss is sixteen, he is apprenticed to a furrier, a job he hates. Instead Moss (now played by Santiino Fontana) makes his own way to Broadway and the work for which he yearns. clerking for theatrical booking agent Augustus Pitou (Will LeBow.)
|Chuck Cooper as Max Siegel (one of several roles he undertakes) and Bob Stillman as Sam Harris (he also plays other parts) and Company in a scene from “Act One.” Photo by Joan Marcus.
Hart’s first play, written in 1925, when Hart was just 21, to help fill Pitou’s road circuit, “The Beloved Bandit” flopped in Chicago. In the meantime, Hart was directing small theater companies all over the New York area, from the Borscht Belt to New Jersey. By 1930, “Once In A Lifetime,” co-written with George S. Kaufman (Shalhoub), and Hart’s first theatrical success, opened on Broadway, after many fits and starts out of town. Hart and Kaufman would continue to work together on many a show after this original collaboration.
Andrea Martin– like Tony Shalhoub, who is a nominee as Best Leading Actor in a Play for his work here– adeptly handles three parts. She is Aunt Kate, eccentric theater producer Frieda Fishbein, and Kaufman’s wife Beatrice. Shalhoub and Martin each give distinct and nuanced lives to each of their characters. In this cast, you risk looking like a slouch if you only have one role to play. Santino Fontana does just that, and he’s outstanding as Hart at his youthful prime.
“Act One” is a perfectly beautiful production.
To learn more about “Act One,” please visit www.lct.org.