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May 20, 2009 > Theatre Preview: Moonlight and Magnolias

Theatre Preview: Moonlight and Magnolias

By Janet Grant

It's 1939 and David O. Selznick, the legendary Hollywood producer has a huge problem. He's three weeks into filming his historical epic, "Gone With the Wind", and the script just isn't working. So what does he do? He fires the original director, and pulls Victor Fleming off of the "Wizard of OZ" to take over. He locks himself, Fleming, and famed screenwriter Ben Hecht, away in his office for five days and five nights until they have a new screenplay. With only bananas and peanuts to sustain them (since Selznick declares them brain food), they struggle through and act out Margaret Mitchell's bestseller on their way into making movie history.

"Moonlight and Magnolias" written by Ron Hutchinson is a witty, oftentimes hilarious comedy wonderfully directed by John Maio at the beautiful Douglas Morrisson Theatre in Hayward. In its 30th Anniversary Season, the intimate theatre provides a great venue for the small ensemble cast.

Michael Sally makes for a very believable Selznick, playing the heavily stressed out producer continually trying to get his father-in-law and head of MGM, Louis B. Mayer off his back. You can practically see the vein popping on his forehead as he bellows out orders over the intercom to his beleaguered secretary Miss Poppenguhl, wonderfully portrayed by Rhonda Taylor. And of course the scenes of him imitating Scarlett are priceless.

Timothy Beagley as Ben Hecht is both hilarious and droll as he complains that Margaret Mitchell's bestseller is second rate bodice-ripping soap opera, though he has never actually read the book. Besides, "No Civil War movie ever made a dime," he says, responding to Selznick's overly obsessive desire to produce "Gone With the Wind."

Steve Rhyne's portrayal of Victor Fleming was side-splitting hilarity at its finest, especially in his depiction of Melanie Wilkes giving birth and the young maid Prissy dawdling around the plantation. Having to live down the scandal of having slapped Judy Garland while directing the "Wizard of Oz" ("once"), he continually spars with Hecht over their respective creative roles while coping with a broken blood vessel in his eye.

There are a few dark periods in the play such as when Hecht continually refers to the anti-Semitism in Hollywood. Hecht also has a problem with slavery, wondering if the movie has to be set in the Civil War period at all. He is also horrified when Scarlett slaps Prissy for lying about knowing how to deliver babies. He doesn't want anything to do with child abuse. Of course when things get too serious, scenes such as the three men testing out ways for Scarlett to slap Prissy by whacking each other around mercilessly quickly lighten the mood again.

"Moonlight and Magnolias" is an entertaining play sure to please anyone who loves "Gone With the Wind". It is at once a slapstick comedy and a commentary of the golden age of Hollywood. With its mix of farce and insanity, frankly my dear, it is quite a bit of fun.


Thursday, May 21 - Saturday, May 23
Thursday, May 28 - Saturday, May 30
8 p.m.

Sunday, May 24, May 31
2 p.m.

Douglas Morrisson Theatre
22331 N. 3rd Street, Hayward
(510) 881-6777

Adults: $22
Seniors: $20
Students: $12

Box Office: Tuesday - Friday 12:30-5:30 p.m.
(510) 881-6777

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