Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Moonlight And Magnolias"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"


entire contents copyright 2009 by Tony Annicone

"Moonlight And Magnolias"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The last show of Community Players 88th season is Ron Hutchinson's "Moonlight and Magnolias'' which was the original working title for "Gone With the Wind". This show is a romp in the style of the 1940'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. (Clark Gable didn't get along with Cukor.) So what's a movie mogul to do? While fending off the film's stars, gossip columnists and his own father-in-law, Louis B. Mayer, Selznick sends a car for famed screen writer Ben Hecht to doctor the script but Hecht hasn't read the novel and predicts the film's certain failure. Selznick 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 Sandy Cerel, who knows what an old fashioned comedy should be, letting the audience have many laughs along the way. She chose the best performers for these four roles who are excellent in these character parts and they are rewarded with a thunderous ovation at the close of the show.

Sandy gives her performers plenty of shtick to do in their roles. The chase scene for the slap is hilarious as David and Ben duel each other with bananas and she blocks this screwball comedy beautifully, too. Delivered principally as madcap, Hutchinson also brings real issues to the surface such as the Great Depression, the color politics of GWTW; the uncertain position of the Jewish elite in Hollywood with rise of the Nazi party which takes place on the eve of World War 2. The Hollywood office of the 1930's designed by Brian Mulvey and built by Victor Turenne comes complete with 1930's furnishings and palm tree and a building backdrop outside the large window on a Hollywood back-lot (the window is used in a scene where they say the sky is red from Atlanta burning as Selznick reads the chapter headings with the movie's soundtrack in the background, Miss Poppenghul stands in front of it, looking like Scarlett O'Hara.) When the trio tries to get the movie back on track it begins to look like a Marx Brothers or Three Stooges movie with the actors becoming more disheveled as their surroundings.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 which becomes a comic romp. The lighting and sound is expertly executed by Dan Fisher and the lovely 1930's costumes are by Pam Jackson. She, Lolly Hakeem and Steve Healey are the stage managers of this show and not only do they keep the show moving smoothly all night long but they have to clean up all the peanut shells, crumpled papers and banana peels that the trio have eaten and thrown on the floor and around the room. Props are by Kerry Klempatoni. Neil Santoro 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 man who 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 which is hilarious. Neil gives a tour-de-force performance in this role, never leaving the stage at all. His final scene of making Louis B. Mayer wait for him to answer the phone after being put on hold for five days is the perfect finishing touch to the show. Veteran actor, Brian Mulvey plays Ben Hecht the Chicago reporter, screenplay writer and script doctor who is cynical, sarcastic and deeply committed to pro-Jewish causes, whose wise-cracking gags set alight films such as "Roxie Hart" and "His Girl Friday". Hecht also wrote the play "The Front Page". He keeps telling Selznick that he hasn't read the book so they have to act out the 63 chapters of the book while he constantly has to type it. Hecht warns them that the audience will not like the heroine slapping the young black girl, turning them against the her causing the movie to become a failure. He is prone to ask questions like "Does it have to be set during the Civil War?" and warns Selznick that no Civil War movie ever made a dime. Another question that Hecht asks which leads to many laughs is "Isn't it obvious that tomorrow's another day?". Brian makes this part his own with the delivery of his one-liners and looks of disbelief. Another point he makes is "This woman Scarlett O'Hara slaps the black maid, right? So we add child abuse as well as racism to her resume?" which is another reason why the audience won't like Scarlett. Hecht riles Selznick up so much that he finally says "Frankly my dear I don't give a damn". When Selznick asks for his help on "Intermezzo", he utters that he needs to head to a mental institution after being cooped up for five days. Brian's grabbing the danish from Neil at the close of the scene is hilarious, too.

Sandy Remington plays Victor Fleming, a director of mostly action films including "Test Pilot" who would go on to win an Academy Award. Fleming was a former auto mechanic and chauffeur who worked his way up from camera assistant to director. Sandy captures the character's nervous energy and impatience perfectly. He is a physically imposing man who plays Rhett in some scenes and it is hysterical seeing him as Melanie giving birth while lying on the floor, screaming push over and over again while Neil plays Scarlett in numerous scenes, uttering "Fiddledidee". Sandy also plays Prissy saying "I's a stupid, stupid girl." in the scene where the three men try to figure out the best angle to film that famous slap becomes a Three Stooges moment as they chase each other around the sofa. While the peanut and banana fight in the second act is also delightful and hilarious. Sandy's best lines include I only slapped Judy Garland once causing the other characters to be aghast at his striking their idol, I always thought the Oscar looked like a big gold pecker and when he wakes up from a nightmare, he yells Action!. Roz Remington, Sandy's real life mother, plays Miss Poppenghul, the dedicated and long suffering secretary/assistant to Selznick. She fulfills his constant and sometimes outrageous requests. Roz speaks in a low pitched voice reminding you of Tallulah Bankhead, wears a red top and skirt with black orthopedic oxfords, finds more ways to the line "Yes, Mr. Selznick" then you'd think possible. Roz's character is a ditzy, sleep-deprived secretary, who gets many laughs along the way with her gray wig and her final entrance is hysterical with all the pencils in her hair going every which way and a kind of mental breakdown with all of his crazy commands catching up to her at last.. All the characters have conflicting personalities but provide a wonderful evening of entertainment. Sandy closes her show appropriately with "Hooray for Hollywood". Be sure to catch this rendition of "Moonlight and Magnolias" at Community Players and you will be yelling hooray, too.

"Moonlight And Magnolias" (12 - 21 June)
THE COMMUNITY PLAYERS
Jenks Auditorium, Division Street, PAWTUCKET RI
1(401) 726-6860

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