Moonlight and Magnolias

Moonlight and Magnolias Rating

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Margaret Mitchell’s Civil War epic, Gone With the Wind, was published in 1936 and became an international bestseller. It was adapted into a movie in 1939, which garnered eight Academy Awards, including Hattie McDaniel’s win for Best Supporting Actress, which made her the first African American actor to take home an Oscar. However, the movie almost never made it to the big screen.

The producer, David O. Selznick, shut down production after 30 days because he was unhappy with the script. He called in hot shot writer Ben Hecht, who had never read the book, and director Victor Fleming to do a rewrite. Playwright Ron Hutchinson locks Hecht, Fleming, Selznick and his secretary in a room for five days and reimagines how the script was finished in Moonlight & Magnolias.

Hutchinson’s play, based on historical events, is written as farce, but the characters also deal with serious questions about race and the fragile position of Jewish executives in Hollywood.
The roles of Selznick, Hecht, and Fleming are based on historical figures. This play adds a secretary, Miss Poppenghul, who stays near the office while the men are locked inside for five days, surviving on peanuts and bananas.

Director Harry Dewar’s production focusses on the tension between the three creatives. He makes full use of the large stage dominated by an elegant Art Deco set in green and peach with a huge picture window at the back designed by Skye Mc Vicar and lit by Richard Parkhill. His blocking is almost choreographic at times utilising every corner of the set.

The play opens to a montage of Hollywood in the 2930s (by Brandon Boyer) with the cast cleverly included. A nice touch!

Adam Gregory Schultz plays David O. Selznick with a manic intensity, dominating the stage and pushing the narrative forward. He is a multi-tasker managing multiple props, phone calls, intercoms, bananas and peanuts with equal ease! He scenes with Hecht in Act 2 are a highlight.

Terry Crowe plays Ben Hecht the frustrated script writer with compassion. He is the realist of the creative team. The play uses Hecht’s character to raise questions about whether the script glorifies the Old South. He doubts that the movie will be a hit and doesn’t even want writing credit on the script for fear that it will ruin his career. Hecht asks Selznick at one point, “Why don’t you make a movie that makes America look its ugly face in the mirror?” To which Selznick replies, “Because no one wants to see that. America wants to see the way it thinks it looks.”

Scott Battersby plays Victor Fleming the director, pulled from the set of The Wizard of Oz to work on Gone With The Wind has many of the show’s ‘one-liners’ which he delivers with precision. His portrayal of Melanie giving birth in Act 2 is hysterical!

Rebecca Gardiner plays the well-meaning secretary Miss Poppenghul with patience alternating with exasperation. Dealing with Selznick is enough, but now she has two extra egos to deal with. Special mentions need to go to the costume coordinator Makala Modra and especially the props team Janet Jauncy and Karen Prior who progressively cover the stage with crumpled paper and scripts as time passes in the play.

My reservation with this production is the vocal tone of Act 1 which lacked light and shade with the result that the actors had nowhere to go when angry and some of the laughs were lost. This was resolved in Act 2.

Moonlight and Magnolias is an exposé of the side of Hollywood we do not see, the prejudices of the period, and of course the egos that brought us one of the most iconic movies of the last century!

This review also appears on It’s On The House. Check out more reviews at Whats The Show to see what else is on in your town.

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