A masterfully acted, tragicomic look underneath Hollywood glamour.
Written and performed by Nick Cohen, this autobiographical one-man-show will keep you laughing for 60 minutes straight as it walks you through the extravaganza and misery of wannabe-celebrity life in Hollywood. Life with Oscar tells the story of an aspiring movie creator from England as he moves to Los Angeles and tries to build connections, learn the secret ways of the entertainment industry, and get his short film made and nominated for an Academy Award.
As young Nick (and the audience) quickly come to understand, potential commercial success and knowing the right people matter a lot more than talent or creativity. We meet a vast array of characters, from slightly questionable to outwardly disgusting, as we watch Nick struggle to climb the brutally steep and thorny social ladder. It turns out that proximity to fame and power does not guarantee success— especially when you're just a 'nice British guy', unwilling to compromise your niceness or Britishness. But in this case maybe that is okay, since by the end of the play you will likely root for the main character to get as far away from this horrible place as possible.
The acting is superb and the intimate stage with minimal props leaves space for Cohen to show off his full theatrical and comedic range. His ability to keep the audience captivated for a whole hour is highly commendable, as he walks us through the various periods in his life; masterfully embodying many diverse characters along the way. It is physical theatre in its pure form; energetic, intimate, and powerful. The writing feels a bit like a stream of consciousness that is secretly well thought through and paced just right. There is a clear structure to the whole arc and recurring themes that give us something to hold onto as the story moves along. The performance is supported by high quality light and sound design which underscores changing moods and settings with purpose and precision, and exactly the right amount of force so as to not overshadow the actor who rightfully rules the stage.
Shining a light on the less glamorous and socially divisive aspects of the entertainment industry is especially poignant at a time when ongoing writers' and actors' strikes are keeping much of Hollywood at a near standstill. For weeks now, members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA), the Screen Actors Guild, and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) have been striking against studios and production companies for better pay and working conditions. It is a sad reality for many aspiring creators that to break into the highly competitive movie and television business requires either a lot of privilege or sucking-up to influential producers and working terrible entry-level jobs.
Although a life with an Oscar might be aspirational for its social status and further career opportunities, the path to obtaining one is a lot less so. The message of the play seems to be that happiness and creative freedom sometimes lies elsewhere, and that chasing conventional success might not be worth it. Of course, it would also be cool if production companies paid their workers fairly and it was possible for a regular creative to make a decent living in Hollywood. While we wait for the industry to change though, I highly recommend being entertained by its mess and dysfunctionality in Nick Cohen's Life with Oscar.
Catch it at the Underbelly Cowgate - Big Belly, 21-27 August, 2pm.