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Western Reserve’s ‘Moonlight’ satisfying production

6/12/2014 - West Side Leader
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By David Ritchey

From left, Al Klesh, Ed Conrad and Dan Williams share a scene in Western Reserve Playhouse’s “Moonlight and Magnolias.”
Photo: Michael Kermizis
BATH — In “Gone with the Wind,” Rhett Butler told Scarlett O’Hara, “You can drop the moonlight and magnolias.”

Part of that line, “Moonlight and Magnolias” became the title of the play, which is now being staged at Western Reserve Playhouse through June 21. Playwright Ron Hutchinson was born in Northern Ireland and is a screenwriter with some success. He has written several stage plays, and “Moonlight and Magnolias” is one of his most produced scripts.

The story, according to Hollywood legend, is true or partially true.

David Selznick, a Hollywood film studio executive, bought the film rights to “Gone with the Wind.” In 1939, he shut down production because he didn’t like the screenplay. He fired the director and took Victor Fleming off the “Wizard of Oz” film, which was in production, and assigned him to direct “Gone with the Wind.” He brought in Ben Hecht to write the screenplay in five days. Hecht had not read “Gone with the Wind.”

The “Moonlight and Magnolias” script provides a humorous account of those five days. Selznick and Fleming play the leading characters from “Gone with the Wind” to help Hecht write. In one scene, Fleming lies on the floor as Melanie, who is in labor. Scarlet sends Prissy to get a doctor because Scarlett, too, doesn’t “know nothing ’bout birthin’ babies.”

When Prissy returns without the doctor, Scarlett slaps her. Of course, this becomes a slapping match fought by the three men. Think of what the Marx brothers might do with this premise.

At this point, Hecht raises the issue of race relations. Should Scarlett be permitted to slap Prissy? Selznick makes a passionate statement about MGM Studio and race relations, which concludes with his saying, “the slap stays in the script.”

Later, Hecht raises the issue of how Jews are treated in Hollywood and the world. He makes references to Hitler’s plans for Germany and Europe.

Hutchinson has a reputation as a successful playwright and screenwriter. However, in this script, Hutchinson attempts to cover too many issues without satisfactorily dealing with any of them. It’s impossible to deal with race relations and Jews in Hollywood or the world in one three-act play.

In one section of the script, the three Hollywood men argue about whether “Gone with the Wind” will win any Academy Awards. By skipping forward in time, we note that Selznick received the Academy Award for Outstanding Production (this was before the Best Movie award). Fleming received the trophy for Best Director and Sidney Howard won the Oscar for Best Screenplay for “Gone with the Wind.” (What happened to Hecht’s script?)

The four actors in the Western Reserve production pulled off the show without a hitch. Ed Conrad made Selznick properly tough. Al Klesh created a Fleming who was both vulnerable and strong enough to direct a big-time movie. Don Williams played Hecht as a writer struggling to make good on his opportunity to write an important script.

Selznick’s secretary, Miss Poppenghul, was played by Pat Robertell-Hudson. In her opening scenes, Robertell-Hudson makes the secretary prim and proper. As the play progresses and the offices go into a five-day lock down, she lets her hair get more and more unkempt and her dress begins to be mighty uneven at the hemline.

The cast is uniformly good.

For tickets, call 330-620-7314.

 

David Ritchey has a Ph.D. in communications and is a professor of communications at The University of Akron. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association.

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