Poway, CA—Ever wonder what kind of effort goes into making a movie from a book? And that book would be Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With The Wind”? Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. Ooops, wrong line, wrong place, out of context.
‘Seriously though, have you?
Well, wonder no longer because in Ron Hutchinson “Moonlight and Magnolias” now in a very funny production at Scripps Ranch Theatre through June 23rd you’ll get your the answer in chapter and verse (no pun intended) in about two hours of high energy, over the top, laugh out loud farce that is done oft times in frenzied spurts, under Matt Thompson’s sharp direction.
Just as an FYI:
Trivia tidbits indicate that one month after Mitchell’s book “GWTW” was published, David O. Selznick (Jim Chovick) purchased the movie rights for $50,000. George Cukor the first director was fired because of artistic differences with Clark Gable. Three weeks after production began, Selznick halted production and Vivian Leigh was not the first choice for Scarlett O’ Hara.
Selznick brought on Ben Hecht (Chris O’Bryon) the rewrite doctor, to rewrite the script having never read the book. His task was monumental. He had to reduce a 1030 page novel to 130 pages of screenplay. Cukor was replaced by Victor Fleming (Jonathan Sachs) who was in the middle of directing “Wizard Of Oz” and Rhett Butler’s “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” to Scarlett was voted the #1 quote by the American Film Industry. None of this is necessary to understand the play, but it makes it more fun if you know a little about it.
The play has its beginning, middle and ending in finely appointed office of David O. Selznick, designed by Andy Scrimger complete with picture window, which acts as a movie screen showing old black and white, probably first ever shown, clips of Flash Gordon. One door leads to the bathroom another, which is locked to keep the animals in, is for exits and entrances.
The office takes up the entire stage and gives the three main characters, Selznick, Hecht and Fleming room to romp, rant, have food fights, curse, act out the entire book so Hecht would know the story and finally type it out on his Underwood (clickity, clickity clack) typewriter.
Rounding out the team, Susan Clausen plays the cowering, afraid to be in the same room with Selznick secretary, Miss Poppenghul. This is a thankless role and she is exactly what the doctor ordered, funny, awkward and never missing a beat.
In the meantime, since Hecht had never read the book and Selznick was loosing money to the tune of $50,000 a day and Selznick’s father in law Louis B. Mayer was breathing down his neck waiting for him to fail, Selznick was frantic to the tune of almost having a nervous breakdown.
Hedda Hopper, Louella Parsons and Edith Head, among others were calling to see when production would begin but first the reluctant Hecht had to know Mitchell’s story before he could write it. Selznick gave him five days to complete the task.
Sooooo, he locked the three of them in the office for those five days with nothing more than bananas and peanuts to eat, lots of water to drink and only bathroom breaks, when needed were allowed. That’s when the slapstick and fun begins, sometimes to overkill. But, it’s farce.
Some of the most funny and slapstick moments come during that reenactment by Chovick and Sachs, who play every character from Scarlett to Rhett to Ashley to Melanie, Mammy and Prissy. By the end of the show even we know the story, just in case we might have forgotten it. But for fun, follow it along if you dare.
With the skeptic Hecht, the eternal naysayer at their throats, their work was quite a task. Hecht kept insisting that a Civil War drama would never sell tickets. Would that he had the imagination and foresight of a Selznick? Between the acting out of the book, the three of them at each other’s throats and a deadline to meet, utter chaos was the order of the day.
Making matters more complicated Hecht continually harasses Selznick on two fronts: the book as it was, he insisted was racist and therefore he would like to change some of it, and he (Selznick) should be contributing to more Jewish causes because Jews were not high on the likeable list at that time and he, Selznick was Jewish (as was Hecht). Lest we forget, the time was 1939 and Germany was killing Jews fast and furious. Why this particular theme was brought in, I know not.
Suffice it to say that “Moonlight and Magnolias” is a fun filled show that will leave you in stitches some of the time while wishing they would finally get to the end of the story at other times. It can probably be cut by many minutes and still get the points across.
Jim Chovick and Jonathan Sachs deserve a standing ovation just for the energy put forth in their reenactments. Their timing is perfect and they put their heart, energy and soul into every scene of the book.
Next time you watch “GWTW” on Turner Broadcast or rent the movie, you’ll have all this unnecessary information at your fingertips whether you like it or not. Enjoy!
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through June 23rd.
Organization: Scripps Ranch Theatre
Production Type: Farce
Where: 10755-F Scripps Poway Parkway, #187, San Diego, CA92131
Venue: Legler Benbough Theatre, Alliant International University