The Roger Williams University Barn Summer Playhouse has set up shop at Wilbury Theatre’s Olneyville theatre to present “Moonlight and Magnolias,” “The [Mostly’ true story of the writing of ‘Gone With The Wind’” by Ron Hutchinson. The two-act play is a mixture of comedy, farce and social commentary, centered around David O. Selnick’s attempt to bring Margaret Mitchell’s novel to the screen.
Selznick (Brien Lang) has fired his director and screenwriter. luring Ben Hecht (Jim Sullivan) and Victor Fleming (Nick Corey) to his Hollywood office to write a screenplay in five days. Neither man has read the book, so Selznick attempts to recreate the plot for them, resulting in some funny, manic scenes that mostly work but occasionally go over the top with silly slapstick.
Just about the time you stop laughing (and there are some funny moments), Hutchinson hits you over the head with the reality of life in America, especially the Deep South. Selznick and Hecht are Jewish and well aware of not only the predominance of Jews in Hollywood and the prejudice towards them. In one tense scene, they are acting out and rewriting the scene where Scarlet slaps her young black maid, arguing over the effect this could have on the audience. While a bit drawn out, it is a tense and biting commentary on the times.
Turning a 1,037-page novel into a movie seems like an impossible challenge, as the three argue, fight and eventually write the familiar closing line.
Sullivan is terrific as the physically and mentally exhausted writer, whose mood changes as he plods his way through the rewriting. “Nobody starts out to make a bad movie,” one of the characters spouts, as they approach writing the final reel with great trepidation.
“Moonlight and Magnolias” is an interesting play, which assumes that you are familiar with the book and/or movie. The late 1930s have many similarities with today’s events, so the play doesn’t feel outdated.
The Wilbury space works well for the production, directed by Jeffrey Martin, who has the challenge of working with two experienced actors (Lang and Sullivan) and two relative newcomers, Nick Corey as Fleming and Miranda Coker as Selznick’s secretary.
“Moonlight and Magnolias” is at Wilbury, 40 Sonoma Court, Providence, August 23-25 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, August 25 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20, $10 for students and seniors. Go online at www.thewilburygroup.