Time to rejoice, movie buffs.
On stage now and for another couple of weekends at Matthew LaChiusa’s busy acting company, ART of WNY, is a play by Ron Hutchinson titled “Moonlight and Magnolias.” It’s a paean to film, its stars and moguls, egos, flops and blockbusters, a shouting, rough-and-tumble, almost true story of how Margaret Mitchell’s sprawling novel, “Gone With the Wind,” found its way into Hollywood history.
Ben Hecht was one of several screenwriters recruited by famed producer David O. Selznick to condense Mitchell’s vivid, 1,000-plus page, Pulitzer Prize-winning tale of the American Civil War and the ensuing Age of Reconstruction into a workable script for the big screen. Hecht was a Hollywood legend. He could pound out a script in a matter of days, hours sometimes. He preferred crime thrillers and screwball comedies so when he was strongarmed into service on GWTW, he had to admit that he hadn’t read the best-selling novel.
“It’s about the Civil War,” Selznick said.
“Well, that’s the trouble right there,” Hecht replied. “No Civil War story ever made a dime.”
Ben also frowned on Scarlett and Rhett, Melanie and Ashley. Cousins marrying? “Is that legal?” he asked. “In the South, it is,” deadpanned Selznick.
So, Selznick, under the gun and apparently popping amphetamines like crazy; Hecht; and Victor Fleming, the deposed director of the then-filming “The Wizard of Oz,” began the seemingly impossible task of writing a script for GWTW in five days. The trio remained locked in a room with a typewriter and only bananas and peanuts for food. Hecht always said that movies weren’t made, they were “yelled together.” Boy, was he right on.
Gail Golden, a skilled comedian, actress, film collector and aficionado, who has been away for a decade, has returned to Buffalo and who better to direct a play about movies?
She has actors David Mitchell (Selznick), Todd Fuller (Fleming), and veteran Guy Wagner (Hecht), at each other’s throats and physically manic for three acts. They’re loud and silly and frequently over-the-top on a Lauren Millman set. It all makes for an impressive rendering by Golden and the cast in a funny and occasionally crude piece. David Mitchell is stellar throughout and Fuller is enjoyably when he foolish imitates Prissy, the young house girl and her “don’t know nuthin’ ’bout birthin’ babies” speech.
Completing the cast is Jamie Nablo-Lama, as hassled Girl Friday Miss Poppenguhl.
So, hooray for Hollywood. And plenty of giggles for “Moonlight and Magnolias.”