The Naples Players presents “Moonlight and Magnolias,” a good production of a pretty good play, which adds up to an entertaining evening, especially for a fan of old movies.
“Moonlight and Magnolias” has a clever concept. It is 1939, and David O. Selznick has just fired George Cukor as director of “Gone With the Wind.” Not only is the director not suited to the picture, in addition, the script, despite being a product of innumerable rewrites, is not working. Selznick has his career, fortune and reputation hanging on this movie version of the most popular book of the century. Expectations are high and there is the potential for things to go spectacularly wrong. The town is buzzing with news that work on the film has been suspended. There is a ridiculously short amount of time to fix things before productions has to start again.
Selznick calls in script doctor Ben Hecht to rework the screenplay and summons Victor Fleming to drop his work on “The Wizard of Oz” and take over as director. The three of them spend a week in Selznick’s office, Hecht and Fleming virtual prisoners, living on bananas and peanuts, coming up with a redraft. Fleming and Selznick have to play out the story for Hecht, the rewrite man who is one of the two literate people in America not to have read Margaret Mitchell’s book.
The story is loosely based on fact and has an “Inside Hollywood” feel — fun, especially if you know a little about the 30’s pictures, the old studio system, and “Gone With the Wind” in particular.
The players are all good. Joel Hawkins as Fleming conveys the right attitude of authority, and also an air of superiority masking insecurity. Randall Jones is amusing and confident in his role as Selznick, written as a hyperactive personality now verging on disintegrating. However, it is in the end an underwritten role, and Jones’s performance suffers from the one-note characterization. Adam Shaver, unfortunately suffering from laryngitis the night we attended, nevertheless captured the essence of the character Hecht. I don’t know what Ben Hecht really looked like or acted like, but Shaver’s portrayal shows Hecht, the former newspaperman and writer of “The Front Page,” just as one imagines him to have looked and acted.
The concept, appealing though it is, does not stand up for a longish, two-act evening. Selznick begs and browbeats and loses his cool. Hecht is sarcastic and mocking. Fleming and Hecht spar. Fleming and Selznick comically play out scenes. Hecht throws in some commentary about racism and anti-Semitism — out of place in this broad comedic entertainment. Selznick delivers a paean to the magic of the movies. This pattern repeats three, four, five times, without developing. Of course, we all know what happened with “Gone With the Wind,” so there is no suspense to the plot. It all could have been done in an hour and 10 minutes — the first act alone was longer than that.
The setting was very good and I enjoyed the projected trailers from Selznick films and newsreels that appeared between scenes or introduced acts. The costumes were as usual well designed and well executed.