Moonlight & Magnolias
By Ron Hutchinson
Directed by Katie Hay
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2014 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
The production of Gone With The Wind in 1938 is legendary: a highly anticipated adaptation of a bestselling novel read by 1.5 million people, a nationwide search for a leading lady in which virtually every actress in Hollywood was considered, and an overwhelming shoot that ran through several screenwriters and 3 name directors. It is an epic tale that helps define the excess and hubris of a vintage period in American cinema, and you can find it all in Roland Flamini’s exhaustive and engaging history, Scarlett, Rhett, and A Cast of Thousands.
Ron Hutchinson’s tidy little script examines one small slice of that history. After three weeks of filming, producer David O Selznick fires director George Cukor and pulls Victor Fleming from the set of The Wizard of Oz to take over. He also brings writer Ben Hecht in to rework the script, locking the three of them in his office for five days with only bananas and peanuts to eat.
The premise is true, even if the details are apocryphal, and the first act plays as near farce, establishing the characters of the three men in somewhat broad terms. As satire, it treads lightly, but in act two the script delves into some deeper, slightly provocative themes about the moral questions of Jews manufacturing the new mythology of Anglo-Saxon America at the expense of their own identity, especially with a highly romanticized retelling of the Civil War that takes a soft view on slavery.
Selznick was the prototypical Hollywood producer, an egomaniacal, Machiavellian womanizer who treated people like commodities and saw GWTW as his claim for cinematic immortality. The fact that he largely achieved his goal is due as much to his obsessive micromanaging of the production as anything else. The role calls for a forceful actor capable of capturing that ruthlessness, unafraid of chewing the scenery when called for. Unfortunately, Jeff Magnum, an affable presence with a penchant for underplaying, is woefully miscast here, and it keeps the play from working as well as it should. Charles Wade brings some of that necessary energy to his Victor Fleming, and has a bit of the rough-and-tumble physicality of the famously macho director, although his performance veers too readily into silliness, which, to be fair, is perhaps where the script takes him. I’m not sure if Greg Collier is accurate in his depiction of famed writer Ben Hecht, but his creation of an intellectual claiming to hold on to his ideals while selling out is the best performance in that he does the best job of finding the character with some specificity. Candy Thomas is given little to do as Selznick’s secretary, Miss Poppenghul, but she does sport a couple dresses that are the single most effective attempt at representing the period.
Hutchinson’s dialogue demands a level of care and attention that this production never quite achieves. There were also more fumbled lines, missed cues, and technical glitches than can easily be excused by opening night jinx. It needed more snap, more edge. As it is, the more thoughtful passages come as more of a surprise than they should, and this Moonlight & Magnolias feels like a missed opportunity..
Moonlight & Magnolias
August 8-18, 2014 @ 7:30pm
Wayward Actors Company
The Bards Town Theater
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40205