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Theatre review: Moonlight and Magnolias in Westport

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The comedy Moonlight and Magnolias rus at the Depot Theatre in Westport through July 22. Resident theatre critic Connie Meng was at the opening night and has this review.

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Connie Meng
Theatre Critic

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MOONLIGHT AND MAGNOLIAS by Ron Hutchinson is a very funny play.  It's not one I was familiar with, and I'm happy to report that it contains a bunch of laugh-out-loud moments.  It centers around the actual chaos involved with the filming of GONE WITH THE WIND in 1939, in particular the difficulty of writing a screenplay from this sprawling novel.

After shooting had started, producer David O. Selznick brought in writer Ben Hecht and director Victor Fleming to come up with a screenplay.  At this point the play moves from fact to farce.  Since Hecht hasn't read the book, Selznick and Fleming act it out for him as he writes.

Scott Schafer gives us a panicky shouting Selznick that's pretty much all on one level.  However, when he's playing Scarlett he's hilarious.  As Ben Hecht Richard Rose does a nice job, especially with his more serious political ideas and pleas for realism.  He also gives a wonderful description of Hollywood reminiscent of Spalding Grey, "It's always like two o'clock on a Tuesday afternoon.  Who could do any real work here?"

Mark Zimmerman is terrific as Victor Fleming, fed up with the Munchkin problems he'd been having on THE WIZARD OF OZ.  His frustration level builds to the point where he's unable to peel a banana, and he's a riot playing Prissy, Scarlett's maid.  The three men have a riotous scene about a slap where they actually come to blows over coming to blows.  Even Selznick's secretary, well-played by Joanna Parson, unravels in the end.

Christopher Hoyt has designed a very workable office set with nice period and Hollywood touches.  I'd like to sound a note of sympathy for whoever has to clean up all the crumpled typing paper, banana skins and peanut shells.

Jean Brookman's costumes are good.  I was glad to see that Miss Popenghul was able to keep the seams of her stockings straight - I could never manage it.  Gary Burlew's lighting is just fine and there's some effective sound of familiar voices from movies of the period.

John Christopher Jones has done a nice job of staging and directing MOONLIGHT AND MAGNOLIAS.  He keeps the pace up and the zingers flying.  In the midst of the verbal mayhem, though, there lurk gems of truth about movies and what we expect of them.  As Selznick says, "It's only in the movies where the dead can walk."  It's a pleasure to see a farce that also has some substance.

On a scale of one to five the Depot Theatre production of MOONLIGHT AND MAGNOLIAS gets four and one-fourth boxcars.  For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.

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