Story: David Selznick, boy wonder movie producer in Hollywood, is hyperventilating about his latest project: The screen adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s blockbuster novel, Gone with the Wind. He’s had a string of hits, but he still feels the pressure of being MGM bossman Louis Mayer’s son-in-law. So, here in 1939 he pulls acclaimed director Victor Fleming off the set of a movie project titled The Wizard of Oz, calls up his go-to writer, Ben Hecht, and informs them that he wants to rewrite the screenplay for Mitchell’s opus in a mere five days and needs their help to do so.
He informs his dutiful secretary, Miss Poppenguhl, to bring plenty of bananas and peanuts (‘brain food’) into his office before locking the door behind her. Then, he expects Hecht to bang out a suitable screenplay based on a book Hecht hasn’t read, while Selznick and Fleming act out major scenes to help the writer get beyond his problems with the story, i.e., glorifying slavery, the Civil War and a protagonist, Scarlett O’Hara, who “doesn’t have the class to be a hooker.”
Highlights: For devotees of the legendary silver screen classic and the book, DLP executive producer Kim Furlow has festooned the theater lobby with memorabilia and chotchke pertaining to the flick, courtesy of actress and GWTW aficionado Anna Blair. Heck, there’s even a quite tasty ‘Prissy’s punch’ courtesy of Furlow available for intermission refreshment.
As for the comedy itself, it’s surprisingly good, even for someone who’s never been able to sit through a showing of the famed flick. Playwright Ron Hutchinson sprinkles amusing and interesting anecdotes about Old Hollywood throughout the two acts, which help overcome his penchant for exaggeration and tedious repetition at times. Still, director Jason Cannon and his cast mostly succeed in providing a bounty of laughs with their pratfalls, slapstick and goofiness carried off with precision and accomplished aplomb.
Other Info: Delightful chemistry between the four performers helps make the Dramatic License Production effective and efficient in less than two hours, including intermission. They perform on Scott Schoonover’s handsomely designed set that showcases Selznick’s tidy office with a bookcase including tomes he’s brought to the screen as well as a window cleverly bracketed by movie screen red velvet drapes that reveals blue skies beyond.
That window is especially well lit by Max Parrilla in a second-act scene that could serve as the show’s denouement, one that devotees of the movie will certainly appreciate.
Add some amusing sound effects by designer Joseph Pini, including the atmospheric interlude music, the considerable chaos that turns the elegant set into a quagmire of chaos thanks to the sundry props of Peggy Knock and Barbara Malta strewn haphazardly about as the days drag on, and the smartly tailored costumes created by Becky Fortner, and you have the makings for an amusing look at what might have happened, at least in Hutchinson’s often strained imagination.
Cannon elicits fine work by his players, keeping them on cue within the accelerating anarchy in Selznick’s office, although it takes a while to warm up to Dean Christopher’s muted portrayal of Hecht. His delivery seems out of sync with the other performers, especially in the first act, although that can be attributed to his playing of the Zionist writer and erstwhile reporter in a relatively ‘realistic’ fashion.
No such subtlety in the characters developed by David Cooperstein as Selznick, Kent Coffel as Fleming and Maggie Murphy as Miss Poppenguhl. Both Cooperstein and Coffel are accomplished comedians who know how to milk a scene or situation, and they attack their roles with calibrated abandon. Actually, all three actors work very well together after a bumpy start and deliver the lion’s share of Hutchinson’s broad humor in rousing if repetitive style.
Murphy is a hoot as Selznick’s efficient and properly diligent secretary, maintaining her poise and professionalism amidst the collapsing civility in Selznick’s office-turned-prison. Her occasional forays onto the stage provide an amusing contrast to the antics of ‘the boys’ as they stagger through their mission, including Selznick sashaying around as the self-centered Scarlett and Fleming prancing and preening as the put-upon servant Prissy.
If you’ve ever wondered how Beverly Hills got its name, or how so many Jewish producers emerged in Tinsel Town, or if you’re just looking for a mindless two hours of silly slapstick, check out Moonlight and Magnolias, and Prissy’s punch, too. You won’t be disappointed.
Play: Moonlight and Magnolias
Group: Dramatic License Productions
Venue: Dramatic License Theatre, upper level, Chesterfield Mall
Dates: November 1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 10, 11
Tickets: $18-$25; contact 636-220-7012 or DramaticLicenseProductions.org
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of John Lamb