Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Moonlight And Magnolias"

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entire contents copyright 2009 by Tony Annicone

"Moonlight And Magnolias"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The current show at the Granite Theatre is Ron Hutchinson's "Moonlight and Magnolias". (the original working title for "Gone With the Wind") It is a wild romp in the style of the 1930's movie comedies. 1939 Hollywood is abuzz. Legendary producer David O. Selznick has shut down production of his new epic, "Gone With the Wind", a film adaptation of Margaret Mitchell's novel because the screenplay and the current director, George Cukor, are simply not working. So what's a movie mogul to do? While fending off the film's stars, gossip columnists and his own father-in-law, Selznick sends a car for famed screen writer Ben Hecht to doctor the script (he hasn't read the novel and predict's the film's certain failure) and pulls formidable director Victor Fleming from the set of "The Wizard of Oz". Summoning both to his office, he locks the doors, closes the shades, and on a diet of bananas and peanuts, the three men labor over five days to fashion a screenplay that will become the blueprint for one of the most successful and beloved films of all time. The producer and director act out each scene of the movie in a very hilarious fashion. Frankly, my dear, this is one funny play, a rip roaring farce with witty, pointed dialogue and hilarious situations. Directed by David Jepson, the show is a laugh riot from the very first line to the last. He chose the best performers for these four roles including himself and they are rewarded with a standing ovation. Each person is excellent in these character roles.

David not only directs the show but built the gorgeous set, too. It is an Hollywood office of the 1930's complete with art deco lights, a huge bay window overlooking the Hollywood back-lot (the window is used in a scene where they say the sky is awash in red and Miss Poppenghul stands in front of it, looking like Scarlett O'Hara.)The show is also reminiscent of the Carol Burnett show. The trio's efforts to get the movie back on track begins to look like a Marx Brothers of Three Stooges movie, with the actors becoming more disheveled as their surroundings and they each suffer different maladies as the five days drag on. The funniest scene is where they slap each other trying to show how Scarlett should slap Prissy. David plays Selznick the legendary Hollywood producer who is obsessed with making the best movie in the history of the world. Selznick is high strung-high energy detail oriented, can be blunt and nearly psychotic. Selznick and Fleming play all the characters in Gone With the Wind. He occasionally gets interrupted by phone calls from Vivien Leigh, Louis B. Mayer,(his father-in-law) Hedda Hopper, Louella Parsons and Ed Sullivan. During a debate Selznick freezes in position like he has had a shock. David gives a tour-de-force performance never leaving the stage. David's wife Beth plays Miss Poppenghul, the dedicated and long suffering assistant to Selznick. She fulfills his constant and sometimes outrageous requests. Beth wears a Shirley Temple brunette style wig with a red skirt and jacket. She walks like Mrs. Wiggins on the Burnett show and speaks in a high pitched voice. Beth also is the stage manager while Tai Scavetta runs the lights and sound with the sound fabrication and props by Patricia Spencer-Smith and character voice sounds by Sonny Default. Veteran actor, Arthur Pignataro plays Ben Hecht former Chicago reporter, screenplay writer and script doctor who is cynical, sarcastic and deeply committed to pro-Jewish causes. He keeps telling Selznick he hasn't read the book so they have to act out the 63 chapters of the book while he constantly types it warning them that slapping a young black girl will turn America against the heroine and the movie will fail. Hecht warns Selznick that no Civil War movie ever made a dime. Arthur makes this part his own with his expert delivery of his one-liners, looks of disbelief and the biggest laugh of the night is about Doshevesky . Jude Pescatello plays Victor Fleming, a director mostly of action films including "Test Pilot" who would go onto win an Academy Award. Fleming was a former auto mechanic and chauffeur who worked his way up from camera assistant to director. Jude captures the character's nervous energy and his impatience wonderfully. He is a physically imposing man so it is hysterical to see him playing Melanie giving birth while lying on the floor, screaming push over and over again. (David plays Scarlett in numerous scenes.) One of Jude's funniest lines is "Frankly my dear, I don't give a shit!". The audience roared for a long time afterwards. They all have conflicting personalities but provide a laugh riot evening of entertainment. Selznick is confident the movie will work while Hecht thinks it will be a bomb, declining to take screen credit. Fleming decides to take his salary immediately instead a share of the profits. So for a well written new comedy, be sure to catch Granite Theatre's rendition of "Moonlight and Magnolias". You will be glad you did.

"Moonlight And Magnolias" (17 April - 9 May)
THE GRANITE THEATRE
1 Granite Street, WESTERLY RI
1 (401)596-2341

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide

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