Experiencing The Collaborative Act Studio’s production of MOONLIGHT AND MAGNOLIAS may have filled only one evening of laughter and fun at The Ritz Theatre in Oaklyn tonight, but I loved every zany minute of it. If I wasn’t fascinated by the film back story, I was smiling often and tearing up with laughter. If you love theatre and film, MOONLIGHT AND MAGNOLIAS is the play for you.
Ron Hutchinson blended fact and fiction to recreate the story of David O. Selznick, Victor Fleming and Ben Hecht who re-wrote the screenplay for Gone With The Wind, considered to be the most successful film ever made, in a week’s time. That they did it in a week, holed up in Selznick’s office with bananas and peanuts, is true. The result is history, and the rest of the story as Hutchinson tells it, is of lot of fun.
I came to the theater expecting a slapstick Hollywood comedy filled with the famous names of the 30s and not much substance. I got much more. First, I was treated to David O. Selznick’s elegant studio office in 1939–a gorgeous set created by both Chris Miller who is also the lighting designer and Ernie Jewell who also plays Victor Fleming. And, as one would expect, it was beautifully lit and the sound a perfect fit for the magnificent play I was about to see. I knew in that this was going to be a great show and it was.
Ted Wioncek, III, who directed this show, says in the program “In tonight’s performance, the role of The Director’s Notes will be played by the play itself;” however, he deserves much of the credit for this very successful show. For a single example, he chose his cast wisely.
Hitting the stage with high energy, John Jackowski was perfect as “David O. Selznick,” the power behind the film. He constantly engages the audience and whoever is on stage with him, reeling the audience with him, giving his character a believable zeal for making films, as well as a knack for making others take part in his passion. He’s a dynamite talent.
Arthur Tennyson-Thompson’s “Ben Hecht” is the practical journalist, the soothsayer; he’s a wonderful foil to the movie mogul, Jackowski’s Selznick. He plays it straight, making the reality in the end as Selzick gets Hecht to give him the screenplay he wants, rather than the one he thinks he should have even funnier. Selznick’s films come with an unreality–classics made of another time–and fantasy in today’s time, and now he wants to be honest with a writer’s perspective? Ironic? So, Hecht raises the realities. The important questions? The morality? The obligation of the film industry to its public and its country, especially as war looms, and Jews are not to be considered equal even in America. And, the vehicle for the delivery of this message is MOONLIGHT AND MAGNOLIAS.
Now, in film (as it is in theatre) you need the director to take that script and make the scene come to life for the audience. Ernie Jewell is priceless as “Victor Fleming,” whose biggest films to date were Test Pilot and Captains Courageous. Fleming, by that time, actually had quite few successful films under his belt. I think Hutchinson deliberately underplayed his experience to make “Fleming” a more fun character, and Jewell pulls it off splendidly. As the director, he’s the one who’s going to have to make the picture a physical reality. He becomes the mediator between the authoritarian producer and very liberal writer, all the while representing the opportunity that the film industry means to the poor, to those American ideals of freedom to be whatever you want to be–from chauffeur to director. He lends much physical humor to the role as well.
Carrie Share as “Miss Poppenghul” is a hoot! Her comedic timing, especially with Jackowski, is so right on that you know the punch line is coming, but you can’t keep from laughing. This is a good thing and understatement. She was terrific! My favorite “Miss Poppenghul?” I loved the last moments she is on stage when all is said and done and she can have the rest of the day/night off–whatever.
Only a single comedic sight gag stood out because it is overdone (guys falling asleep on top of or wrapped in each other’s arms), which is an easy fix.
I see a lot of theatre these days; however I am also passionate about film, especially the old ones. This is the first time I’ve felt both of my passions affected by a stage performance. This I owe to The Collaborative Act Studio’s very professional production of MOONLIGHT AND MAGNOLIAS.
The connection to me is clear. I even came away from the theater with a certain pleasure in knowing Gone With The Wind would surprise the Hollywood naysayers and go on to show what dedication and determination can do. The Depression had been a long one and it was time to give the people a rest from the reality of the day. Perhaps, Gone With The Wind, a melodrama, that told of courage and perseverance was needed as much–or maybe more, than The Wizard of Oz, a fantasy.
The audience tonight was sparse. I wish it weren’t so. This production is worthy of sold out houses so let’s get the word out. If you don’t have tickets yet…get them before the word does get out or you’ll miss seeing a fantastic show, MOONLIGHT AND MAGNOLIAS.
MOONLIGHT AND MAGNOLIAS
by Ron Hutchingson
Directed by Ted Wioncek III
June 2 – 11, 2011
Collaborative Act Studio
at The Ritz Theatre
915 White Horse Pk
Haddon Township, NJ