Moonlight and Magnolias | Play Review

By Michele Griskey

Special to the Sounder

“Moonlight and Magnolias” by Ron Hutchinson is the latest production from The Actors Theater of Orcas Island.  

This is a fun, thoughtful, and dynamic show. When the stage lights go up, it’s 1939 and film producer David O. Selznick has a vision about making an epic movie of the bestselling novel, ‘Gone With the Wind.” After just three weeks into production, Selznick halted filming and fired the director. The play starts as he meets with the scriptwriter Ben Hecht and the director Victor Fleming in his office. His goal is to have Hecht rewrite the script and Fleming direct the movie. The catch? They have five days to get the work done, and they don’t get along.

Selznick locks the two men and himself in his office, and on a diet of bananas and peanuts, they work to create the script of a lifetime. This part of the story is based on a true story. The play, however, is fiction, a creative look at what went on in Selznick’s office.

Ron Herman plays the charismatic and enthusiastic Selznick who must get two talented men onboard with his vision. The stakes are high; Selznick needs to create a hit movie. Ron Herman’s energy is contagious as he rushes about acting out scenes. His ability to convey Selznick’s enthusiasm and zeal for the film industry is excellent.

John Mazzarella plays the Ben Hecht, the scriptwriter who has to rewrite a screenplay based on a novel he’s never read. Hecht is an idealist dealing with the less than ideal world of Hollywood, and he isn’t too impressed writing about a book which glorifies the old South. Mazzarella plays his part with passion and conviction.

Tony Lee plays the gritty director Victor Fleming who has been pulled from the set of “The Wizard of Oz” to join the other men in Selznick’s office. He’s both pragmatic and a visionary in his own right when it comes to finding the best camera angles for important scenes. Lee brings in an element of enjoyable slapstick humor to the play.

The creative process is interrupted from time to time by the frazzled and bewildered secretary, Miss Poppenghul, played perfectly by Gillian Smith, who’s face alone reveals just what she thinks of her boss’s eccentric ways.

The play is directed by Doug Bechtel, and his strength is to allow the actors to find their characters and shine on stage. The set includes a classic 1930s office, period music, and lots of banana peels and peanuts. Those with peanut allergies may want to sit in the back row.

The play’s comedic value is strong–witty lines, Selznick and Fleming acting out scenes from “Gone with the Wind,” creative spats, yet, on a deeper level, this play addresses bigger issues relevant in 1939. Racism, slavery, prejudice against Jews in the film industry, and Hitler’s rise in Europe all come into play. Layered in the storyline is each man’s vision with the creative process and a deeper look at the film industry as a whole.

This complexity makes the play more enjoyable and satisfying than a standard comedy and leaves the audience both laughing and thoughtful. This show is well worth your time.

“Moonlight and Magnolias” is playing at The Grange on Feb. 28, March 1, 7, 8 and 9th at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 and are available at Darvill’s, online at www.actorstheater.com, or at the door. Some language may not be suitable for younger children. For additional information, contact Doug Bechtel at 317-5601.

Those who purchased tickets for the Feb. 22 performance and couldn’t attend because of the inclement weather will have their tickets honored at any of the other performances.