Playhouse On Park Does Its Best With 'Moonlight And Magnolias'

 

By FRANK RIZZO

 

First impressions: Ron Hutchinson's comedy sounds promising: Production of the 1939 film of “Gone With the Wind” is halted as Hollywood producer David O. Selznick, playwright/screenwriter/Chicago reporter Ben Hecht and macho director Victor Fleming hole up in Selznick's office for five days to reshape the sprawling script and get the cameras rolling.

 

But it's the script of “Moonlight and Magnolias” that needs reshaping as it careens from farce to melodrama to speechifying, with plenty of holes in logic and missed opportunities along the way. The three leads give it their all but the staging by Russell Garret is often as sloppy, broad and belabored as the writing.

 

But it sounds so promising: I'll grant you that it's a dandy premise for laughs: a backstage peek at the making of a beloved American film classic filled with egos, power and a ticking clock. Maybe that's why it received productions at major theaters. It has immediate audience appeal and one is eager to go on a spirited, smooth, and fun ride. But this is a clunky narrative with a shaky set-up, inconsistent characters and poor payoffs. Details in the research of this imagined true-life-event are sprinkled about the script but not developed. Wit is notably absent, which is rather surprising given the pedigree of the trio of leading characters.

 

The work consists mostly of Selznick and Fleming acting out much of “Gone with the Wind”'s plot for Hecht (who had not read the novel, a one-note joke that is endlessly repeated), as the screenwriter tries to bring common sense -- as well as a sense of social responsibility -- to the film. A lot is made of the desperate American assimilation of the Jewish studio heads, presented in back-and-forth rants by Hecht and Selznick.

 

Playhouse on Park gives the play a good-looking production with a handsome set by Erik D. Diaz and snappy period costumes by Erin Kacmarcik. Bill Mootos as a no-nonsense Fleming best captures the spirit of what the comedy could have been. Allan Greenberg as Hecht has most of the best lines, few as they are, but is also stuck with dialogue that makes him look like a tiresome idiot, rather than the brash, savvy screenwriter he was. Kevin Elden as Selznick has his moments, too, but plays the film producer's desperation so high from the beginning that he has little place to go.

 

Thoughts on leaving the parking lot: Playhouse on Park is slowly building its base and does good work. A fiddle-dee-dee farce in January heats up things, but this script is lukewarm at best. After all, tomorrow is another day.

 

The basics: Playhouse on Park, 244 Park St., West Hartford. The show plays through Feb. 10. Running time is 2 hours and 5 minutes including one intermission. Tickets are $22.50 to $32.50. Information: 860-523-5900 and www.playhouseonpark.org


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