Encore Michigan

‘Moonlight and Magnolias’ riffs on GWTW at The Snug

Review June 16, 2019 Paula Bradley

MARINE CITY, Mich.–With Moonlight and Magnolias, playwright Ron Hutchinson provides plenty of anecdotal evidence that three filmmakers can survive locked in an office for five days, consuming only bananas and peanuts. They may go a little crazy and experience hallucinations, but it can be—as has been—done.

This comedic tale, currently playing at The Snug Theatre in Marine City under the direction of Brittany Everitt Smith, is loosely based on the true events that led to the filming of Gone with the Wind. After three weeks of filming, producer David O. Selznick (Kevin Fitzhenry) fires his original director and brings in Victor Fleming (Aaron Smith), pilfered from the set of The Wizard of Oz.  He also wants a rewrite of the script, for which he hires writer Ben Hecht (Jeffrey Smyk).  Worried about the cost of production delays, Selznick locks all three of them in his office, confident they can produce a new script.

Selznick prohibits any phone calls, their only contact with the outside world being his secretary Miss Poppenghul (Terri Turpin Amato), who is charged with supplying them with the “brain food” of bananas and peanuts, plus a typewriter.  The task before them is daunting; Hecht and Fleming are doubtful the movie will be any good.  “No Civil War movie has ever made a dime!” claims Hecht. The novel, which they feel glorifies the slavery traditions of the old south, is over 1,000 pages long, and Hecht—to the disbelief of the others—has never read it. But Selznick feels that 1 ½ million readers of the novel can hardly be wrong, and this is the perfect story to make into an epic film.

Selznick begins by attempting to give Hecht a two-minute summary of the twisted love triangles, the comings and goings between Atlanta and Tara, and the events of the war, which makes Hecht hopelessly confused. Selznick and Fleming decide instead to act out key scenes for Hecht, with Selznick playing Scarlett and Fleming playing all the other characters.

Over the course of the five days, they suffer exhaustion, cabin fever, constipation, burst blood vessels, even catatonic lapses. They argue over which scenes to include and which to cut, and Selznick insists that all the dialogue be straight from Margaret Mitchell’s book. They disagree about how to portray southern slave owners as sympathetic characters, which Hecht insists is impossible. And the conversations are not limited to their script writing task.  Hecht and Selznick deliberate about the role of Jews in Hollywood, their tenuous success which rises and falls with each film they make, and the film industry itself, which they all feel reached its peak in the 1930s and is now in decline.

Although there are moments of deep contemplation, as mentioned above, there are also several scenes of intense hilarity, notably the argument about how to portray Scarlett’s slap of Prissy, which devolves into physical comedy reminiscent of The Three Stooges. The gossip about other Hollywood personalities and antics also elicits many laughs.

Each of the four cast members fills a different comedic niche. Fitzhenry’s Selznick is the serious business man, driven by his slightly insane obsession with bringing the hit novel to the screen; Smith’s Fleming is the sarcastic realist who is up for anything as long as he gets credit; Amato’s Miss Poppenghul is the secretary who recites the same few lines with increasing levels of exasperation; and Smyk’s Hecht is perhaps the funniest, the pessimist afflicted by exhaustion who insists you simply cannot end a script with a cliffhanger like the heroine being left alone by the hero.

With peanut shells crunching underfoot and banana peels in various stages of decay, by the end of the play they have a script, and the audience has enjoyed a couple hours of laughs.  Sensitive watchers be warned that there is liberal use of strong language and some suggestive language.  Moonlight and Magnolias is playing at The Snug through July 7, 2019.

Week of 8/8/2022

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