EDITOR’S NOTE: The wrong review inadvertently was posted this morning in place of a review of the current Theater Barn production of “Moonlight and Magnolias.”
The popular “Moonlight and Magnolias,” the play about the struggles preceding the making of “Gone With the Wind,” is The Theater Barn’s final offering of the season. Talk about going out with a whimper. Though Saturday night’s performance was an audience pleaser, I found the show to be less — much less — than adequate.
‘Moonlight and Magnolias’
WHERE: The Theater Barn, Route 20, New Lebanon
WHEN: Through Sept. 27
HOW MUCH: $22-$20
MORE INFO: 794-8989 or www.theaterbarn.com
The only real bright spot in the production is Aaron S. Holbritter, playing Ben Hecht, the writer who has been called in to replace Sydney Howard as the script writer. The hitch is Hecht must rewrite the ailing screenplay in five days and has read only the first page of the book, dubbing it “moonlight and magnolias.” As Vivian Leigh, Clark Gable and the rest of the iconic cast wait impatiently for the picture to start up after it has been shut down — or not shut down, as David O. Selznick (Matthew Daly) assures his father-in-law, L.B. Mayer, and gossip columnists Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons — the script is manipulated and maneuvered into the Oscar-winning text we know so well.
Teaching the writer
Assisting in the rewrite is Victor Fleming (Richard Lounello), who has been taken off “The Wizard of Oz” to replace George Cukor as director of “GWTW.” Fleming, like Selznick, is appalled that Hecht has not even read the best-selling book, which has sold over 1 million copies in less than a year. Selznick decides he and Fleming must act out every scene in the book so that Hecht can understand and write the screenplay. And therein lies the comic crux of the play.
What should be hilarious — the macho Fleming playing Prissy as she is slapped by Scarlet and Selznick delivering Melanie’s baby, for instance — becomes, in the hands of director Philip C. Rice, merely a mug-fest. Except for Holbritter, the actors, including Melissa MacLeod Herion (Miss Poppenghul, Selznick’s beleaguered secretary), rely on really, really dumb facial expressions and physical contortions of their body parts. Lounello, especially, is allowed some ridiculous and, after awhile, annoying moves as he manifests his exhaustion by crawling about the stage between pieces of furniture.
On the other hand, Holbritter has taken a hard look at this intelligent text about old Hollywood and given his character life. His comic timing is superb as is his sense of history. When Selznick expresses his passion to create an American “War and Peace” with his production of “GWTW,” Hecht phones a few Hollywood cronies to ask if Selznick is an American or “a Jew.” To a man, he is considered “a Jew.” Holbritter asks in a quiet tone if these are the people for whom Selznick wishes to create an American “War and Peace.” It is a meaningful moment. Blessedly, the manic Daly as Fleming is asleep on the couch.
The set, by Abe Phelps, is inviting and well-constructed, and costumes by Kate R. Mincer are true to the period.