Moonlight and Magnolias at Laguna Playhouse

Moonlight and Magnolias is a fictionalized account of three major Hollywood players who, at the behest of the producer, are looked in his office for five days to until they can produce a script for a movie that has been already been filming for three weeks. All production has halted against denials of such things to the press, and all principal actors are on hold until such screenplay is produced. The movie in question: Gone With the Wind.

Though it is a creative supposition on behalf of playwright Ron Hutchinson, the play is very plausible and it creates an utterly entertaining play with laugh out loud moments. Facts have been changed for dramatic purposes. Producer David O. Selznick, playwright Ben Hecht, and director Victor Fleming only produced half of the script – enough to resume work on the halted production, and it really took them seven days to do that. But in this play, the changes raise the stakes and the laughs keep coming.

Selznick (Jeff Marlow), son-in-law of behemoth movie mogul Louis B. Mayer needs to have a blockbuster to crawl out of his giant shadow and he has invested all he has on this Margaret Mitchell novel. The script wasn’t working despite the fact that several prominent writers had taken a stab at it (F.Scott Fitzgerald and Charles MacArthur had made attempts) but nothing was working. He brings in script writer, Ben Hecht (Leonard Kelly-Young) to pump life into the script – although he has never read the novel. To direct this film, Selznick pulls Victor Fleming (Brendan Ford) from the final weeks of principal photography on The Wizard of Oz. With a diet of peanuts and bananas, the three set out to tackle this epic.

The Laguna Playhouse has assembled a wonderfully talented and comedic cast that brings these larger-than-life characters to colorful life. Marlow embodies Selznick with a sort of youthful gusto. Ford and Marlow are at their best in the scenes where Selznick and Fleming must enact the scenes from the novel while Hecht pecks away at the typewriter. Physical comedy doesn’t get any better than this.

Straight-man Kelly-Young helps bring out some of the more serious issues that this production of Gone With the Wind did not address: slavery and racism and Jews in Hollywood at that time. Hutchinson wisely steers away from heavy-handed speeches and monologues and instead, opts to bring that to the fore with plenty of comedy.

One final element of this play is the role of Selznick’s secretary, Miss Poppenghul (Emily Eiden). Though the character has minimal lines and only enters and exits briefly and sporadically throughout the play – it is Ms. Eiden’s performance that steals the show. The four actors work well together to bring this funny play to life. Even if it is partially fiction, behind-the-scenes Hollywood has never been this funny.

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About Obed Medina
Obed received his BA in Creative Writing from the University of California at Riverside. He has freelanced and volunteered at various theatre companies in Los Angeles since 2002. He launched his own workshop theatre company in 2008 and has produced six original one-act plays and one Off-Broadway hit. Currently, he is living in Ashland, Oregon working on his writing and founder of Collaborative Theatre Project.

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