Friday, Jul 25, 2014 04:34 pm est

‘Act One’ suffers from lackluster script

Posted on May 1, 2014 | by Dylan Jarrett

courtesy of Joan Marcus via Lincoln Center Theater

Theater is hard. This is the main message conveyed by “Act One,” a new play written and directed by James Lapine. The visually stunning production, currently running at Lincoln Center Theater, narrates the early life and theatrical career of playwright Moss Hart.

Hart is best known to today’s audiences as the librettist and director of the musical “My Fair Lady.” However, “Act One,” which is based on Hart’s memoir of the same name, chronicles his difficulties in finding a place in the theatrical community and the difficulties that he faced even after he found his way in.

“Act One” is headlined by Santino Fontana, hot off his success voicing a Disney villain in “Frozen,” and “Monk’s” Tony Shalhoub. The two men both play Hart — Fontana for the majority of the play and Shalhoub as an older version of Hart, which offers a retrospective insight into the character.

Shalhoub also plays Hart’s father and, more importantly, the infamous George S. Kaufman, the older and more experienced playwright who becomes Hart’s writing partner. After Hart has spent years directing amateur gigs and writing furiously, he and Kaufman finally team up to work on Hart’s play, “Once in a Lifetime.”

“Act One” is far stronger as a production than it is as a play. While the story is interesting enough, at times it raises unanswerable questions. During one scene in the middle of the play, viewers are introduced to a litany of 1920s stars, including Langston Hughes, the Gershwins and Dorothy Parker. The scene feels out of place in a drama that is otherwise closely focused on one man’s crafting of a play.

Furthermore, the relationship between Hart and Kaufman sometimes feels like the only one developed in the show. While Hart credits his Aunt Kate — played by the always entertaining Andrea Martin — for nurturing his love of theater, viewers never really get a sense of their relationship.

Overlooking quibbles like this, though, “Act One” is truly fantastic. The revolving set by Beowulf Boritt can only be described as thrilling, serving as a constant source of energy through a play that might otherwise seem to drag on.

Fontana gives an excellent performance, portraying Hart as earnest and frustrated, grasping at straws even as his chance at success dangles right in front of him. Shalhoub’s Kaufman is reminiscent of a batty professor whose weird quirks — such as the complete avoidance of physical contact — ring as true as his harshly honest but encouraging feedback on Hart’s writing.

There is no doubt that “Act One” provides an accurate view of what it is like to work in the theater. Great dramatists must write, rewrite, perform and then rewrite again.

The process can take years, as it did for Hart, and even then the product might not be completely right.  But, when the potential outcome is a beautiful production like “Act One,” which succeeds through its flaws, it is easy to see why all that work is worth it in the end.

A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, May 1 print edition. Dylan Jarrett is books/theater editor. Email her at


profile portrait
Felipe De La Hoz

Multimedia Editor | Felipe De La Hoz is a Colombian national studying journalism at the College of Arts and Sciences. Having been born in Colombia and raised in the United States, Mexico and Brazil, Felipe is a trilingual travel aficionado and enjoys working in varied and difficult environments. Apart from his photography, Felipe enjoys investigative reporting and interviews, interviewing the likes of Colombian ex-M-19 guerrilla fighters and controversial politician Jimmy McMillan. He has covered everything from governmental conferences to full-blown riots, as well as portraiture shoots and dining photography. Having worked under Brazilian photojournalists for Reuters and AFP, Felipe hopes to one day work on demanding journalistic projects and contribute to the global news cycle.

Ann Schmidt

News Editor | Ann is a liberal studies sophomore who lived in Florence during her freshman year. She plans on double-majoring in journalism and political science and is always busy. She is constantly making lists and she loves to laugh.


Daniel Yeom

Daniel started at the Features desk of WSN last Spring, writing restaurant reviews whilst indulging on free food and consequently getting fat. Last Fall, he was the dining editor, and he this semester he is senior editor. Daniel is in Gallatin (living the dream) studying Food & Travel Narratives, incorporating aspects of Food Studies, Journalism, and Media, Culture, and Communication. He loves food more than life itself.

Hannah Luu

Deputy Multimedia Editor | Hannah Luu is a ridiculously great Deputy Multimedia Editor. She is a sophomore from Northern California. If you think Northern California means San Francisco you might need to closely examine a map. She is passionate about NPR and being half Asian.

  • How to join:

    The Washington Square News holds open weekly budget meetings at its office located at 838 Broadway every Sunday. All are welcome to attend, no matter your background in journalism, writing, or reporting. Specific times for meetings by desk are listed below. If you wish to talk to an editor before you attend, feel free to check out the Staff page.

    5 P.M. 6 P.M. 6 P.M. 6:30 P.M. 6:30 P.M. 7 P.M.

    Applying for an editor position: Applications for editor positions during the fall or spring semesters are available twice each academic year and can be found here when posted. Applications for the Fall 2012 semester are closed, but check back for Spring 2013. Those who wish to apply are urged to publish pieces in the newspaper and contact current editors for shadowing.

    History of the Washington Square News:

    The Washington Square News is the official daily student newspaper of New York University and serves the NYU, Greenwich Village, and East Village communities. Founded as an independent newspaper in 1973, the WSN allows its undergraduate writers and photographers to cover campus and city news and continues to grow its strong body of award-winning journalists and photographers.

  • The WSN has a circulation of about 60,000 and can be found in over a hundred purple bins distributed throughout campus. It is published Monday through Thursday during the fall and spring semesters and online on Friday, with additional special issues published in the summer. The newspaper recently revamped its website during the Fall 2012 semester.

    Like few campus newspapers in the country, the paper is editorially and financially independent from the university and is solely responsible for selling advertisements to fund its production. The WSN, including its senior staff, is run solely by current undergraduate students and the business-division is largely student-operated as well.

    A Board of Directors comprised of alumni, NYU professors and working news media professionals serves as advisors to the paper. Board members have no control in the WSN's editorial policy or newsroom operations. Alumni of the newspaper are established and leading journalists in such news organizations as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, NBC news, ABC news, Fox News, and USA Today.