Moonlight and Magnolias
8/4-7, 11-14 • $10-18
Cape Fear Playhouse
613 Castle St.
“Moonlight and Magnolias,” by Ron Hutchinson, is the latest offering of a winning season by Big Dawg Productions. On the surface it is a very funny show about the making of a movie—the American classic “Gone with the Wind” to be precise. David O. Selznick (Brandon Leatherman) has shut down production of the film. It seems that “Gone With the Wind” is in trouble. To begin with, it doesn’t have a script—not a usable, working script anyway—so Selznick has called in the best script doctor in Hollywood, Ben Hecht (Langley McArol) to fix it, as well as director Victor Fleming (Doug Dodson), who has been working on “The Wizard of Oz.”
Together with his secretary Miss Poppenghul (Pamela Grier), Selznick holds Hecht and Fleming captive for a week to mend the broken pieces of his film, only to discover that Hecht is apparently the only person in America who hasn’t read the book. In fact, we discover Hecht has no idea this film is set during the Civil War. Naturally, Fleming and Selznick decide they will act out the book so the screenwriter can prepare the script.
It must be intimidating to portray three well-known, real people on stage. Selznick, Hecht and Fleming were never stars in the sense of Clark Gable (I believe it would be easier to play Gable, as we all would recognize the character quickly) but there remains a lot of easily accessible information about all three. Brandon Leatherman brings Selznick not as the all powerful movie mogul, though elements of that appear in the script. Instead for this week, he is a guy who has asked two of his closest friends to help him do something he can not do on his own: make a successful movie of “Gone with the Wind.” We see him at turns pleading, bargaining, and threatening. A character poses the question, “So movie producers are dictators?” Selznick responds, “No, Hitler wouldn’t have the vision to make a movie! Mussolini wouldn’t have the patience! And Stalin is too nice!”
Still, he is neither supremely confident nor debonair during this time. Hecht is written to be his confidant—both about his personal life and his professional choices. In the first five minutes of the show, Selznick tells Hecht he fired George Cuckor from directing the film. Hecht is stunned: “Your kids call him Uncle George!”
McArol’s calm understatement is a strong choice for the character of Hecht. Not only does it make his position as the voice of moderation more believable, but it makes the jokes funnier. Dodson as Fleming is the foil to the other two. Though all three have worked hard to get to the top of their professions, and all three have come form very poor circumstances, Fleming’s attitude and concerns are different than the other two. Dodson has a tough job trying to get the audience’s attention away from McArol and Leatherman, but he manages to get the limelight some of the time and still remain part of the ensemble. However, Dodson does come very close to stealing the show with his portrayal of Melanie in labor during the re-enactment of the book. I laughed so hard I thought my pancreas would burst!
Pamela Grier as poor Miss Poppenghul is a character that we can all relate to: the lowly secretary who works hard, gets no thanks, and makes every wish and whim of her boss come true.
Though set in the late 1930s and discussing a book about the 1860s, this is, in fact, a timely play. It asks the audience to read critically. It asks the audience not to accept the events of the story or our world as inevitable, but to question things that do not ring true. Hecht’s own disbelief raises a valid question: “Our heroine, who doesn’t have the class to be a prostitute…is about to add child abuse to her resumé?”
Hecht continually needles Selznick that the depictions of African Americans in the book and forthcoming film are inappropriate for the realities that the world was facing in the ‘30s. In real life, Hecht campaigned against the activities of the Ku Klux Klan, and eventually made The Negro Solider (a war time propaganda film that was the first to depict the contributions African Americans were making to the war effort) with Frank Capra. In “Moonlight and Magnolias,” Hecht wants Selznick to have the realization that local filmmaker Chip Hackler depicted for Capra in his film “Two Hours in the Dark”: He wants Selznick to realize the power he has to shape the way audiences see the world and behave in it, and he wants Selznick to use that responsibly.
This question of responsibility and power within media is no less pertinent today than it was 80 years ago. Great comedy rings true: It is our mirror to ourselves. Big Dawg has selected a very funny show as a vehicle to discuss the questions we don‘t ask everyday, but should.