THEATRE REVIEW: Moonlight and Magnolias

There exists so much folklore around who and what made up the golden age of Hollywood and its larger than life characters (both real and fictional), that it is always a delight to come across a story that lays bare these goliath figures of narcissistic proportions.
THEATRE REVIEW: Moonlight and Magnolias
There exists so much folklore around who and what made up the golden age of Hollywood and its larger than life characters (both real and fictional), that it is always a delight to come across a story that lays bare these goliath figures of narcissistic proportions. Indeed if ever there was a business where PR patter alone could produce such majestic battles between the establishment, then the story of how producer David O Selznick literally pulled together the script for Gone With The Wind is surely a fabulous example. For those who are unfamiliar with what has become almost urban legend, producer David O Selznick put a stop to the initial stages of filming Gone With The Wind when he decided neither the script nor the director were to his liking. At the time, it was reported he was losing $50,000 every day the film sat on hold (a significant amount in those days). So in what could easily be seen as a great whim of madness, he pulled director Victor Fleming off The Wizard of Oz set and cajoled him to direct Gone With The Wind. The duo then decide to get renowned scriptwriter Ben Hecht to rewrite the entire screenplay in a record five days. Hecht however hadn’t even read the book, but because there was no time to spare Selznick and Fleming allegedly read out the scenes for Hecht to write around. It is said that Selznick actually locked Fleming, Hecht and himself in his office during this entire period so as to get the script up to speed as quickly as possible for production. And it is these five days that Moonlight and Magnolias delightfully focuses on. Indeed the premise of Moonlight and Magnolias is already a deliciously outrageous one, and so expectations and anticipation of what the sum of this play could be are without a doubt high. The current MTC production of Moonlight and Magnolias does not let this giant story down. The cast is outstanding. Patrick Brammall (David O Selznick) Nicholas Hammond (Ben Hecht) Stephen Lovatt (Victor Fleming) and Marg Downey (Miss Poppenghul). Their talent is impressive, and it is fascinating to watch this team at work. The cast interacts with each other like old buddies – the way they challenge, deflect, and then score a razor sharp hit. It’s all quite seamless and amusing to watch. Of course playwright Ron Hutchinson’s lines flow easily amongst these seasoned actors. The farcical element is controlled and surprisingly adds to the genuine feeling of absurdity around the idea that any writer could and should write a screenplay based on a book they have never read. Hutchinson has a growing list of impressive hits in his folio of work. From films including The Josephine Baker Story to Fatherland to over 20 plays including his renowned Rat in the Skull. Director Bruce Beresford is of course an Australian director of a great many iconic tales from The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, Don’s Party, The Getting of Wisdom, Breaker Morant and The Club to name only some. He has also directed international hits such as Driving Miss Daisy, Tender Mercies, Double Jeopardy again to name only some. Not only is Moonlight and Magnolias Bruce Beresford’s first play at the MTC, it is also his first stage play full stop. Hopefully though, this may become a new forum for Beresford, and theatre audiences too will be able to enjoy the work of such an accomplished director. Postscript: Clearly the story behind the making of Gone With The Wind which then went on to win 10 Academy Awards is no cautionary tale. It is still said to be the highest-grossing film of all time (taking inflation adjustments in account), and what lessons directors, producers and scriptwriters take from this is too mischievous to contemplate. Moonlight and Magnolias By Ron Hutchinson 21 February - 28 March Melbourne Theatre Company • Playhouse Theatre (Arts Centre) • Approximately 2 hours

Rita Dimasi

Tuesday 3 March, 2009

About the author

Rita Dimasi is an Arts Hub reviewer.