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By Martin F. Kohn
Posted: Sept. 23, 2012 at 6:45 p.m.
You don't, unless you're a very unusual person, think of "Gone With the Wind" as a Hollywood laff riot. The writing of the movie, on the other hand, is another story. At least it is in Ron Hutchinson's comedy "Moonlight and Magnolias."
The way Hutchinson tells it, one day in 1939 three guys hole up in a studio office with Margaret Mitchell's best-selling novel, a stack of rejected screenplays and a never-ending supply of bananas and peanuts. Five days later, they emerge with an American classic.
Your first instinct okay, my first instinct as a journalist is to start fact-checking. Could this be how it really happened? Second instinct: Why spoil all the fun? There is much to be said for second instincts. Christopher Bremer's Jewish Ensemble Theatre production is the laff riot that "Gone With the Wind" was definitely not and should be appreciated as such.
There are punch lines aplenty, but the preponderance of "Moonlight"'s humor comes across through physical comedy. The same holds true for the play's tension: It's there in the lines, but it's really delivered in the action.
Much of that is due to Bremer's direction of three masterful actors in the principal roles: Wayne David Parker as blustery producer David O. Selznick, steadfast in his belief that a Civil War movie can be a hit and in desperate need of one to save his career; Joel Mitchell as Ben Hecht, the script doctor with the magic touch and a social conscience, and Glen Allen Pruett as Victor Fleming, destined to become the greatest relief director of all time, who completed, but didn't start, both "The Wizard of Oz" and "Gone With the Wind" (and in the same year, too). In the smaller part of Selznick's hard-pressed secretary, Mary Bremer has some choice moments, too.
Given a spirit of collegiality, mutual affection and respect for the project not to mention three square meals a day and a few good nights' sleep the three collaborators would have a difficult enough time conjuring an acceptable rewrite in a mere five days. They have, however, none of the above.
Fleming and Hecht don't like each other, for reasons that are never made clear. Selznick doesn't want his creative hirelings to eat real meals something about creative juices not mixing well with digestive juices. Hecht balks at making a film that glorifies people who owned slaves (Does it have to be set in the Civil War?) and he's the only person in America who hasn't read the book. Parker's Selznick and Pruett's Fleming, therefore, must act out the book their re-creation of the birthing scene is alone worth the price of admission while Mitchell's Hecht pounds away at the typewriter and frequently joins in.
"Gone With the Wind" employed the screen technology of its era, but our boys wind up in 3-D: delirious, disheveled and deprived of sleep. You can almost smell their rank-looking undershirts and the bananas and peanuts on their breath.
Any yet, out of this colossal mess the stage, bathed not with moonlight and magnolia blossoms but strewn with papers and peanut shells and banana peels, stands as metaphor comes this movie
Amid the torrents of laughter is the understanding that the process of collaborative creation is never tidy, despite the result that appears on the screen, in the concert hall or at the theater.
SHOW DETAILS: The Jewish Ensemble Theatre's "Moonlight and Magnolias" continues at the Aaron DeRoy Theatre on the campus of the Jewish Community Center, 6600 W. Maple Road, West Bloomfield, Thursday, Saturday & Sunday, through Oct. 7, plus Wednesday, Oct. 3. Running time: 120 minutes. Tickets: $38-45. For information: 248-788-2900 or www.jettheatre.org.
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