Nearly 70 years after it was penned, Once in a Lifetime—the acidic George S. Kaufman/Moss Hart satire on the Hollywood movie machine—is still as nasty and relevant as ever. Hollywood still ignores talent in favor of big boobs, writers are dumped when they don't have an immediate hit, and as Kaufman and Hart say here—and screenwriter William Goldman repeated and made famous years later—"Nobody knows anything."
Bruce Goodrich's stylish costume design easily transports you back to 1927. The silent-movie industry is in a panic over the release of the first sound picture. Smelling opportunity, three ambitious vaudevillians (Jason Buuck, Kevin Beaty and Aimee Guichard) ditch the New York stages and head west. Posing as vocal coaches, the three fast-talk blustery studio head Herman Glogauer (Scott Nabb) into financing an elocutionary academy for his screechy-voiced, no-talent stable of actresses.
In 1930, when this play was first produced, audiences wouldn't have thought twice about sitting through a comedy with a leisurely three-hour running time. In this, the Age of Sitcom, that's a lot less likely. But director Donn Finn takes a cue from Howard Hawks and Preston Sturges, seamlessly guiding his near-perfect cast of 30 through the three long acts with speed and panache. Actors dash in and out of Ann Sheffield's ingeniously crafted set, delivering one-liners with machine-gun timing reminiscent of the best of the screwball comedies.
There are slow spots—exposition scenes that scream for a good cutting, and Act Two's plot twists come amid tangled messes of repetition before they happen. But blame the script, not this welcome revival.
Once in a Lifetime at Cal State Fullerton's Arena Theatre, 800 N. State College Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 278-3371. Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m. Through Oct. 17. $6-$8.