It’s 1939 Hollywood: Legendary producer David O. Selznick has just shut down production on the most eagerly anticipated movie in history – his blockbuster version of Margaret Mitchell’s bestselling novel ‘Gone with the Wind’ – scrapping the script and sacking the director in the process. While fending off the film’s stars, gossip columnists and his own father-in-law, (movie mogul Louis B. Mayer), Selznick sends a car for famed screenwriter Ben Hecht and pulls formidable director Victor Fleming from the set of The Wizard of Oz. Summoning both to his office, he locks the door, and on a diet of bananas and peanuts, the three men labor over five days to rework a screenplay that will become the outline for one of the most successful and beloved films. The play is written as a farce, but the characters also deal with serious questions about race and the tenuous power of Jewish executives in Hollywood. The phrase “moonlight and magnolias” is actually mentioned almost immediately in the play. The euphemism refers to the romanticization of the pre-civil war south, especially the light and scent.
Four actors make up this cast: Jeffrey Blomquist (Ben Hecht), Steven Ciapanna (Victor Fleming), Ethan Rundell (David Selznick) and Amy Sprouse (Miss Poppenghul). Sprouse does a nice turn as the ditzy blonde secretary, bringing a few smiles to the audience. Rundell should be commended for memorizing a significant amount of dialogue required in his role. His delivery however, consisting of near shouting throughout most of the night became off-putting, appearing less empassioned and more mean. Ciapanna, who clearly has the most potential for milking the Fleming character doesn’t quite deliver on all the opportunities for belly laughs provided for him in this script. The playwright gives this role ample chances to go over the top and “ham it up” but Ciapanna plays it too safe.
Blomquist is another story. From the very beginning he sets the tone as the cynical and reluctant screenwriter. With an understated yet commanding presence he saunters through the conversational ups and downs with just the right touch of skepticism while still maintaining a likeability. His more than one-dimensional character portrayal helps to elevate the otherwise wearisome nature of the play. He seemed most believable and comfortable in his role.
There were some technical missteps too: The actors’ voices were over amplified, yet the recorded segments were often unintelligible. Rundell referred to “Post It Notes”, which weren’t invented until the 1980’s. In the latter part of the play, Blomquist removes his shirt revealing his modern day tattoo. (Hecht being Jewish would not likely have had a tattoo).
This show is meant to be a fast-paced comedy requiring snappy delivery of dialogue combined with lots of very physical action. Unfortunately not much of that came through this night.
MOONLIGHT AND MAGNOLIAS runs through September 28.
MOONLIGHT AND MAGNOLIAS
Written by Ron Hutchinson
Directed by Dan Patrick
September 18 – 28, 2014
The Road Company at
405 S. Main Street
Williamstown, NJ 08094