By D. A. Blackburn
Kristine Thatcher, artistic director of the BoarsHead Theater and stage director of the company’s latest offering, is quick to point out that “Moonlight and Magnolias” is a play produced for the sheer fun of it. Though Ron Hutchinson’s story focuses on three very real men – all of whom remain legends of Hollywood’s golden age – and events which are plausible, though certainly exaggerated and unlikely, “Magnolias” is a work that refuses, wisely, to take itself too seriously. The result is an intoxicatingly funny work, executed by the BoarsHead with comedic poise and a very professional confidence.
Hutchinson’s play focuses on a tumultuous week in the life of David O. Selznick. Movie buffs will note that Selznick is the producer behind one of Hollywood’s greatest triumphs, and the son-in-law of famed studio head Louis B. Mayer (the second M in MGM). After years of casting and conceptualizing Selznick has begun filming his mega-budget opus, “Gone with the Wind,” only to discover that his screenplay is riddled with problems. In an ulcer-inducing move, he has stopped production and brought in a pair of big guns – with even bigger personalities – to help him repair a script which seems irreparable.
Selznick’s hired help: Ben Hecht (a well known journalist and screenwriter and passionate Zionist, known for his tireless efforts to help European Jews escape the horrors of World War II) and Victor Fleming (the only director in history to have two films in the top 10 of the American Film Institute’s list of greatest American films).
“Moonlight and Magnolias” finds the three men sequestered in Selznick’s office for a five-day, non-stop creative binge, with only peanuts and bananas to sustain them. It’s a crazy concept, that Selzick could wield the power to virtually abduct these two legends, but that aside, Hutchinson has done his Hollywood homework, and injects the work with a host of humor based in historical fact.
The play unfolds as two laugh-filled acts, as the three legends work to create a screenplay that will forever change the world’s view of cinema – Selznick and Fleming acting out their vision of the work, while Hecht plunks away on a typewriter. Remarkably, all but Selznick believe it will be a flop.
The BoarsHead’s casting of Tommy A. Gomez as Selznick, Nathan M. Hosner as Fleming and Jonathan Wagner as Hecht is superb. All are well suited to their roles, physically and creatively. Under the direction of Thatcher, they strike a solid balance of chemistry and individual comedic timing. Likewise, Samantha Garcia makes an outstanding impression as Selznick’s secretary, Miss Poppenghul. Though the role is much smaller than those of her fellow thespians, she brings a tremendous amount of nuance to it, generating some of the show’s biggest laughs.
From a technical standpoint, the BoarsHead’s production value is also very high. The show’s sound design incorporates a variety of period-correct and movie-related music, along with Selznick’s ever-present intercom. Lighting is well executed for the simple single set, and properties are both visually appealing and amusing. Nicole L. Broughton’s sets are perhaps a bit too “funky fifties” styled, but they are attractive and functional for the comedy.
(FOR “REVIEW BOX”)
‘Moonlight and Magnolias’
BoarsHead Theatre, 425 S. Grand, Lansing. Wed.-Sun., through Dec. 30. Tickets: $12-$25. For information: 517-484-7805 or http://www.boarshead.org