by Nancy Holley
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Zany and hilarious describes Moonlight and Magnolias, a delightful romp through the screen play rewrite of Gone with the Wind. Strange as it may seem, the production of Gone with the Wind so familiar to many of us almost did not happen. The original screen play was deemed too long and underwent several revisions. The original director was fired and replaced.
Moonlight and Magnolias provides a capsulated view of the rewrite process, punctuated with prejudices against Jews and Blacks in the late 1930s. The cast extensively researched their characters and were surprised by the amount of historical truth in the play.
The play’s characters were real and deeply involved in the Hollywood scene. David O. Selznick (Sergio Garza) wants to be remembered as a great film maker due to his father’s failure in the industry. Selznick sees Gone with the Wind as his opportunity IF the screenplay can be successfully rewritten. Garza comments, “I love the bits of reality included in the play. It’s loud and over the top, but there is a lot of truth in it.”
Selznick recruits Ben Hecht (Keith Lindersmith), the son of Russian Jewish immigrants and a successful screenwriter, to rewrite Sidney Howard’s six-hour screen play into a blockbusting saga. Lindersmith views Hecht who is involved in the Jewish movement as the conscious of the play. “The Jews were very successful in the movie industry yet couldn’t live in certain neighborhoods or join particular clubs.”
Selznick’s choice of Victor Fleming (Joseph Troncozo) as director was not popular with the Gone with the Wind cast, particularly the women. Troncozo depicts Fleming “as a bit of a chauvinist. Once he knows what he wants, he tries to will it.”
By all accounts three strong personalities, Selznick, Hecht, and Fleming come together to begin the rewrite. Selznick and Fleming are astounded to learn that Hecht has never read Gone with the Wind. Since Fleming believes that screen writing is easy – based on the imagination of others – he and Selznick decide to educate Hecht by acting out scenes from the novel. Imagine Selznick and Fleming portraying Prissy and Scarlett and you have an idea of the comedy that ensues!
Even though Selznick had an assistant, Marcella Rebwin, the female assistant in the play was not given Rebwin’s name. Leeni Mitchell who portrays Miss Poppenghul wonders about that omission in a play where all the male characters use real names. Despite extensive research no explanation has been found for that deviation.
Over the rehearsal period, director Donny Graham has become more and more intrigued with the show. “The humor in the play has a point. Prejudice is wrong no matter what. I want the audience to go away with ‘WOW! What a funny show’ and later think about the point of the humor.”
Everyone involved emphasized that the audience will have a good time. “The show is very fast paced with something happening all the time,” quipped Garza. Mitchell commented, “One of the most intriguing things about the play is Selznick and Fleming playing multiple roles from the book – playing women as well as men.”
On Sunday July 6 after the matinee, “Back Stage at the Ice House” will be hosted by Sharon DeCoux, a veteran Visalia Player. Audience members will have an opportunity for a behind the scenes look at the show and the opportunity to ask questions and interact with cast/crew.
Moonlight and Magnolias opens at the Ice House Theater at Race and Santa Fe in Visalia at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, June 27, 2014 and runs for three weekends with evening performances at 7:30 p.m. on 6/27, 6/28, 7/5, 7/11, and 7/12 and matinees at 2:00 p.m. on 6/29, 7/6, 7/12, and 7/13. NOTE: There is no performance on Friday July 4; rather an additional matinee has been added on Saturday July 12.
For more information about the Visalia Community Players and to purchase tickets, check out their website and KRL’s article about VCP. Tickets may also be purchased by calling 734-3900. For details about local arts groups in Tulare County, visit the Visalia Arts Consortium website.
Check out more local theatre reviews this week right here in KRL & even more theatre reviews & articles in our Arts & Entertainment section!
To purchase two tickets for the price of one, enter KRLMAM in the Have a code? box on the Buy/Redeem Tickets Reservation page via the Players website Ticketing information page.