ONCE IN A LIFETIME – A Masterclass at Strawdog

ONCE IN A LIFETIME – A Masterclass at Strawdog

 (L to R) Sarah Goeden, Justine C Turner, Nicole Bloomsmith. Photo: Tom McGrath.

Review: ONCE IN A LIFETIME at Strawdog Theatre Company

By Erin Shea Brady

Strawdog is a touchstone for ensemble-based, storefront theater. They’re losing their long-time, much-loved home on Broadway at the end of this season. Kaufman & Hart’s 1930’s comedy ONCE IN A LIFETIME stands strong on its own and is also a wonderful tribute to the work that they’ve accomplished in that space.

For those of us in the audience who have loved and supported Strawdog, the parallels are strong. In ONCE IN A LIFETIME, once the talking pictures hit Hollywood, critics claim that “the legitimate stage will have to look to its laurels.” In director Damon Kiely’s hands, Kaufman and Hart’s Hollywood satire asks, how do we change with the times without selling out?

The persistent trio of vaudevillians at the center of the play–May (Kat McDonnell), Jerry (Michael Dailey) and George (Scott Danielson)–do their best to ensure their Hollywood success by making sure that when the new need for voice-acting sends actors and producers into a panic, they’re there to provide coaching for a price. Their scheme gets them far, but leaves them scrambling to stay with the in-crowd as things go awry.

Don’t expect a cookie-cutter period piece. Kiely gives us all of the farcical standbys–the door slamming, the bits–but with a fresh and hilarious musical twist that brings us out of the 1930s and right into 2016.

The ensemble is really fantastic. In this thirteen-person cast, we see over forty characters come to life. Many of these actors are longtime members of Strawdog and they do their mission proud. Their history working as an ensemble is evident. They play together, risk together, and support each other. The result is a masterclass in generous work and commitment to character, as well as a funny and engaging night at the theater.

The design as a whole does well to support the fast pace of the piece. Joe Schermoly’s set design is conducive to the action and develops a personality of its own. This play has quick-changes galore, and Brittany Dee Bodley and Cassandra Bass’s excellent costume design keeps them fast and funny. Kiely’s collaboration with composer Austin Oie is smart and suits the production perfectly.

I have no doubt that Strawdog will continue to make great ensemble art as an itinerant theater company and wherever they eventually make their new home. This is a passionate, daring and resourceful group of artists and I look forward to seeing where this new journey takes them.

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About author

Erin Shea Brady

Erin Shea Brady is a contributing writer and critic at PerformInk and Newcity Stage. Directing credits include: Everybody (Brown Paper Box Co.) and Cabaret, Annapurna (staged reading) and The Rise and Fall of Little Voice (No Stakes Theater Project). Erin has assistant directed and dramaturged productions at the Goodman, Jackalope, TimeLine, A Red Orchid, Northlight, and Remy Bumppo. Erin is a graduate of the directing program at Columbia College Chicago, the internship program at Steppenwolf, Jackalope's inaugural Playwright's Lab, and participated in the Goodman's Criticism in a Changing America bootcamp. Erin is a company member with Brown Paper Box Co. and is currently pursuing her MSW at Loyola.