If there’s one thing an audience likes, it’s being in on a joke. “No Civil War movie ever made a dime,” Ben Hecht, the screenwriter, keeps saying throughout “Moonlight and Magnolias.” And every time he says it, the audience laughs knowingly — because the Civil War movie he’s deprecating happens to be “Gone With the Wind,” and we know — even if he doesn’t — how that turned out.
Based on a true story, it’s 1939 in the office of legendary movie producer David O. Selznick (Jonathan Cantor), and he has a problem — he’s had to halt production on “Gone With the Wind.” He’s losing money by the day, and he doesn’t have a script he can work with — and he’s also fired the director. Enter Hecht (Jarel Davidow), a screenwriter, and Victor Fleming (Aaron Holbritter), a director that Selznick pulls off “The Wizard of Oz.”
‘Moonlight and Magnolias’
WHERE: Lake George Dinner Theatre, 2223 Canada St., Lake George
WHEN: Through Oct. 12
HOW MUCH: Dinner and the show, $69; show only, $40
MORE INFO: 668-5762 ext. 411, www.lakegeorgedinnertheatre.com
Selznick is determined to make this movie — he’s sure it’s going to make his career, win him fame, fortune and respect, and maybe get his father-in-law off his back (and when your father-in-law is Louis B. Mayer of MGM, that’s a hefty weight to want removed.)
Fleming and Hecht are less convinced the movie is viable, but are persuaded to help — or, if not persuaded, they’re at least locked into Selznick’s office by the man himself for five days while they come up with a workable script. Put three men in a room for five days straight (with nothing to eat, per Selznick, but bananas and peanuts) and things start to get a little wavy around the edges.
Comedy with bite
Director Terry Rabine has assembled a strong cast for the show. It’s at heart a comedy, but with some serious bite to it, and the three men play their parts admirably.
Holbritter’s comedic timing is really top-notch; he’s always a joy to watch onstage. In the role of Fleming, he plays both the blustering egotistical director and the man who’d do anything to not go back to the life he had before; moving between those two extremes is a balancing act, and he did an admirable job.
Davidow’s Hecht is the moral compass of the piece; when the other two men are thinking of the bottom line, he’s thinking of how to elevate what they’re doing for the greater good. He also manages to walk the line between the serious and comedic very well.
Cantor’s Selznick is, perhaps, not as much fun as the other two to watch (not by fault of the actor, but as the character plays the straight man more often) but has a genuinely touching scene with Davidow about their mutual outsider status in Hollywood that is just as historic, in context, as the story of the making of the movie.
This is a good show for dinner theater — not too light but not too heavy, artistic, historic, and both well-written and well-acted. The audience (a full house, even after a month and a half of performances) was very engaged throughout. It’s truly a testament to Margaret Mitchell’s book, Selznick’s movie and the power of live theater.
More from The Daily Gazette: