Moonlight and Magnolias, Ron Hutchinson
Runs: 2h 5m: one interval: till 7 March
Chaos behind the scenes in 1939 Hollywood. A gem of a play.
Just days before Gone with the Wind, his boldest venture yet, is due to start shooting, producer David O Selznick is in trouble big time. He’s got his stars, Gable and Leigh, on board – more or less. But he’s fired his director; and having rejected a string of scripts, needs another screenwriter.
Proceedings starts with Selznick in his office waving his arms about, barking orders down both telephones, giving his PA unreasonable instructions, and trying to cajole another director, Victor Fleming, to drop what he’s doing with The Wizard of Oz – he’s left 150 munchkins drunk in a corridor – and writer Ben Hecht – he hasn’t even read the book – to help him salvage the enterprise.
What follows is a multi-layered gem of a play. A brilliant text has that quick-fire Jewish-American vitality and humour one associates with a lot of the real-life Hecht’s film scripts. Acting is outstanding. And, alongside terrific comedy, the issues of box office lowbrow versus high art, the nature of cinema, and anti-Semitism and the coming war in Europe (it’s 1939) are examined.
What with Selznick’s belief that the collapse of Hollywood is imminent, and Fleming and Hecht’s shared certainty that they all have a career-ending stinker on their hands, there’s also a lot of dramatic irony. Save for some fascinating back projection, it’s all achieved on a single office set.
Joe Alessi’s performance as Selznick is spot-on. Every inch the Hollywood entrepreneur, at once trying to fend off doomster father-in-law Louis B Mayer, gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, and incipient ulcers, he’s shown to be go-getting yet vulnerable.
Dan Fredenburgh, who as Hecht gets some of the best lines to express his detestation of the original novel and popular culture in general, is terrific. So is Oscar Pearce as Fleming, who is a gentile and knows it. As PA, Miss Poppenghul, Hayley Doherty makes a small role into a big one.
The only flaw of the evening is one of taste: the scene when, at Selznick’s insistence, the three men have been locked in his office for days on end with no sleep and nothing but peanuts and bananas to eat, is rendered implausible by some noticeably over-enthusiastic acting.
That said, this Moonlight and Magnolias is significantly entertaining and satisfying fare.
David O Selznick: Joe Alessi
Ben Hecht: Dan Fredenburgh
Miss Poppenghul: Hayley Doherty
Victor Fleming: Oscar Pearce
Voiceover Artist: Robin Bowerman
Director: Kirsty Patrick Ward
Designer: Tim Meacock
Lighting Designer: Jamie Platt
Sound Designer: Ella Wahlstöm
Video Designer: Will Simpson
Fight Director: Kev McCurdy
Production Photograph: Pamela Raith