Many also know it had its fair share of production difficulties. But what if one its writers had gotten his way and didn’t set GWTW during the Civil War? Or, made it so that Scarlett never slapped Prissy when she couldn’t birth no babies? Moonlight and Magnolias, the current offering by Dramatic License Productions, gives us a comedic look at the creative process behind a film that won ten Oscars and added, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” to the Hollywood lexicon.
Moonlight and Magnolias is the story of five (or seven?) pivotal days during the production of 1939’s Gone with the Wind. After only a few weeks of filming, Producer David O. Selznick shut the production down, and called upon noted Hollywood screenwriter Ben Hecht to rewrite the script, despite the fact Hecht hadn’t actually read Margaret Mitchell’s seminal work. Selznick gave Hecht five (or seven) days to do the rewrite, and then set about locking himself, Hecht, and replacement Director Victor Fleming (whom he’d liberated from directing duties for The Wizard of Oz), in his office for the duration. The only food available was bananas and peanuts, that Selznick called “brain food.”
Of course, exactly what transpired in that office is known only to those three men, but playwright Ron Hutchinson gives us his mostly comic version of the possible goings on.
Director Jason Cannon was spot on in casting Dave Cooperstein as a nebbishy Selznick, Kent Coffel as the former chauffer turned Director Fleming, Dean Christopher as the no-nonsense screenwriter Hecht, and Maggie Murphy in the little-seen but still pivotal role of Miss Poppenguhl. Each invested themselves in their roles to the delight of the audience.
Technically, the show was well done. Selznick’s office as the set was well executed and detailed (Scott Schoonover), sound cues were right on (Joseph T. Pini), costumes fit right in (Becky Fortner), props were plentiful (Peggy Knock), and lighting was generally perfect (Max Parrilla), except the far downstage lights seemed somewhat dim, considering all the action that goes on there. But the special lighting at the very end was great.
Did I think it a perfect show? Well, I’d give it 90%, only because of the script. Most of the show was indeed comedic, and so was fun and energizing. The fun included Selznick and Fleming acting out all the major roles, the use of bananas and peanuts literally all over the set, the devolving of the characters into exhaustion and madness over the extended sequestration, and many other bits (Munchkins!). However, I felt the heavy-handed subplots regarding the rewriting of Prissy’s famous “birthin’” scene into a race relations criticism, and the directly related “message” scene regarding Jews in Hollywood, brought the production’s energy and effectiveness low at those points.
Oh, and I feel the production is doing itself a disservice by not investing in a few yards of inexpensive fabric for a makeshift curtain. The scene at the top of Act II would have been several hundred percent more effective if we hadn’t had a full view of the stagehand preparing it during intermission.
That said, I walked away happy and humming the Gone with the Wind theme. In all, it was a very pleasant show.
Moonlight and Magnolias runs 1:50 with a 15-minute intermission. It continues at Dramatic License Productions in Chesterfield Mall through November 11, 2012. For more information visit www.dramaticlicenseproductions.org.