To say the space the team at Huntsville’s Alabama Creative Artists use is intimate is an understatement. It’s tiny, and yet, big things are happening there.
This is especially true when it comes to their latest undertaking, Ron Hutchinson’s Moonlight and Magnolias. The play, first performed in 2004, follows a harried Hollywood producer, David O. Selznick after he has fired the director of Gone with the Wind and halted production as the script undergoes a complete makeover for the hundredth time. He enlists bagel-hungry screenwriter, Ben Hecht, and driver-turned-director, Victor Fleming, to help him revive the picture with a brand new script.
There’s only one problem.
Hecht has never read the book.
Cue a medley of Gone with the Wind “Greatest Hits” as Selznick and Fleming reenact scenes from Margaret Mitchell’s book as Hecht wearily types away. Peppered with plenty of bananas and peanuts courtesy of the daffy secretary, Mrs. Poppenghul, the men work to piece together the now iconic script. The entirety of the show takes place in Selznick’s office where he is essentially holding Hecht and Fleming captive for the week.
Director, Gena Rawdon, greets the audience at the beginning of the show and immediately her passion for the story and its source material is clear. Despite all of Gone with the Winds’ prejudices, it’s a film that has anchored itself in the imaginations of audience members across the world.
The cast itself is small, only four people. Actor, Joel Yalowitz has perhaps the toughest job as David O. Selznick, a man that has put his reputation on the line in order to make this film. Selznick has to be lovable enough to root for, but just crazy enough to believe an epic can be written in a week. It’s a hard task, but we see Yalowitz working towards it as he spirits his team onwards.
Brian Beck brings a lovable affability to the role of Ben Hecht. George Kobler takes on the ornery Victor Fleming with ease. Both actors are present and sharp and we root for them despite their character’s flaws. We don’t see much of Mrs. Poppenghul, Selnick’s silly secretary, but Amy Landreneau’s performance is energetic and brisk.
Moonlight and Magnolias is comedic and the effortless camaraderie this cast has makes it easy to enjoy. Yet, it isn’t all Hollywood high-jinks. It gets you thinking as an audience member.
The moment Scarlett hits Prissy is a moment of tension in the play. Hecht initially refuses to write it into the script. He asks Selznick a question along the lines of, “Don’t you feel a sense of responsibility towards these people who are so clearly oppressed?” Selznick remains firmly attached to the scene Mitchell wrote in her book. Hecht even tries to give Prissy a voice after the strike, but it’s constantly opposed.
It’s a scene that makes people nervous and you can feel it in the theater as audience members laugh and become silent.
Is Scarlett O’Hara a product of her environment or a glorified terror? Where does art’s responsibility begin and end? These are big open-ended questions, the kind your college professor had you write about in six page increments. These are questions the creators ask themselves in Moonlight and Magnolias and the questions we still raise today.
Alabama Creative Artists Theatre’s Moonlight and Magnolias has its final weekend of performances August 6-8. All performances are at 7:30 p.m. with the exception of Sunday’s performance at 3:00 p.m. Tickets may be purchased at AlabamaCreativeArtists.com or at the door. All tickets come with complimentary wine, sodas, water, and other concessions.