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Moonlight and Magnolias

a Comedy
by Ron Hutchinson

COMPANY : Georgia Ensemble Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Georgia Ensemble Theatre and Conservatory [WEBSITE]
ID# 5426

SHOWING : January 10, 2019 - February 27, 2019



The ultimate “Hollywood secrets” insider story! Take a peek behind the camera as David O. Selznick, Victor Fleming, and Ben Hecht lock themselves in an office with a 5-day supply of peanuts and bananas to solve the near-disaster of "Gone With the Wind." Will they emerge with a script in time to produce one of the world’s most famous films?

Director James Donadio
Victor Fleming Bart Hansard
Miss Poppenghul Mahalia Jackson
David O. Selznick Bill Murphey
Ben Hecht Geoff Uterhardt
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Utterly Nuts, Utterly Bananas
by playgoer
Sunday, January 27, 2019
The genesis of the movie script for "Gone with the Wind" may not have occurred exactly as envisioned in Ron Hutchinson’s "Moonlight and Magnolias," but the story is based in historical fact. Filming was suspended while the script was tweaked and a new director was brought in. The play shows us producer David O. Selznick (William S. Murphey) locking script doctor Ben Hecht (Googie Uterhardt) and new director Victor Fleming (Bart Hansard) in his office for a work week to get a workable scenario pounded out. Comedy is ensured when it’s revealed that Hecht hasn’t read the book, and that Selznick and Fleming have to act it out for him. More comedy comes with the intrusions of Miss Poppenghul (Mahalia Jackson), Selznick’s put-upon secretary.

This seems to be a show in which directors like to put their personal stamp by staging the comedy in idiosyncratic ways. Georgia Ensemble’s production is no exception. Director James Donadio has added touches I haven’t seen before. Between the first two scenes of the first act, there’s a time lapse in which the office shows the ravages of sleep-deprived enactors subsisting on peanuts and bananas (Selznick’s idea of brain food). Mr. Donadio accomplishes this by having antebellum-dressed stage hands (two male, two female) take over the stage, spreading papers and banana peels and turning over furniture. It’s a cute touch, with Kacie Willis’ sound design accompanying the stage-changing action in sprightly fashion and with Emmie Tuttle’s costume design getting an unexpected chance to shine.

Another unique comic touch is inventing a simmering hatred by Miss Poppenghul for Victor Fleming. This allows for a lot of unscripted interplay between the two. There’s also some extra entrances by Miss Poppenghul, notably one when she delivers rolls of toilet paper to a stink-filled restroom. Overall, I find Ms. Jackson’s performance too broad for my taste, but Mr. Hansard inhabits the role of Victor Fleming beautifully. Mr. Murphey and Mr. Uterhardt play their roles ably, but don’t seem to be breaking new ground in their performances. They’ve come across as much the same in many other shows they’ve been in.

Stephanie Polhemus’ set uses the full width of the stage to portray a tasteful, symmetrical, neoclassical office, with Connor McVey’s lighting most notable in the colored washes visible on the cyclorama behind the upstage bank of windows and above the ceiling line of the set. The furniture doesn’t scream the 1930’s, but it doesn’t stay in an office-like configuration of sofa, chair, and coffee table for long. What Mr. Donadio has his cast do with the furniture is nothing less than inspired.

"Moonlight and Magnolias" is a pretty sure-fire script. Georgia Ensemble may not be putting on the definitive version of it, but it certainly gets the comedy across. Mr. Hansard uses character to get comedy across; the others pretty much stick to shtick and what’s worked for them before. If you haven’t seen the play before and you haven’t seen the actors before, this production may very well "wow" you. Even if you’ve seen previous productions, Georgia Ensemble’s staging is fun. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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