Mark Spina’s The Theater Project has a history of producing heartfelt, thought-provoking theatrical events. Their latest production, Ron Hutchinson’s “Moonlight & Magnolias,” is a plain-speaking look at the rough and tumble Hollywood of the late 1930s when it really was the Wild, Wild We-Ho.
The stellar cast includes Gary Glor, as David O. Selznick, in a bravado performance full of tics and twists; Rick Delaney, renowned for his portrayals of everything from Barrymore’s ghost to benighted Millburn policemen, as Victor Fleming; and Michael Irvin Pollard, as the darkly political Ben Hecht. These three warlocks form a kabal that will re-write the screenplay of the now-iconic “Gone with the Wind.” Among the best character roles ever is Miss Poppenghul, Selznick’s Girl Friday secretary, played by Deborah Maclean, who starts out utterly proper and bandbox fresh, yet by the final scene of the final act, she’s clearly been through the mill with the boys.
Imagine you’re Selznick. Eminent screenwriter Sidney Howard, the only one ultimately credited, gives you a coffee-table book of a screenplay based on one of the longest novels written at that time–Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind.” It is un-filmable, klugey, and needs revision. Selznick is bleeding money to the tune of $50,000 a day, so what does he do? He hires Mr. Fix-It Newspaper man cum screenwriter Ben Hecht (Pollard) to put in the fix. The fly in the ointment? Hecht hasn’t read the book!
Selznick snatches Victor Fleming (Delaney), whose nearly pugilistic exchanges with Hecht guarantee frolic from the get-go, from “The Wizard of Oz,” locks the three of them in his office and the fun begins.
Maclean’s Poppenghul is the ninja–she knows Selznicks’ thoughts before they’re thunk. She brings bananas and peanuts, at Selznick’s direction, and she makes a transition from the tippy top of her game to eking out the last bits of energy with no sense of self remaining as she struggles to keep an errant strand of her marcelled hair in place. Brilliant!
Our trio is a combination of Macbeth’s witches and the Three Stooges, to the benefit of both. They spar with words both elevated, as when discussing the politics of faith and race, and low when denigrating one another for sport and to give themselves energy for the battle with the script. You’ll leave with ideas popping like popcorn as you leave the theater. Head in this Friday, April 10, for a special post-show talkback about the political climate and anti-Semitism rampant in Hollywood at the time.
What’s up next for The Theater Project? Their Kaleidoscope Kabaret–one of their two one-act festivals throughout the year that feature local playwrights. Visit http://www.thetheaterproject.org/
for your tickets and more information. Arrive early and enjoy downtown Maplewood and make an entire evening of your foray at the Burgdorff Arts Center.