It’s surprising how the definition for success in Hollywood has rarely changed over the last century. Whatever their chosen method, each arriving individual yearns to one day make a big important movie that earns universal acclaim, giving them the wealth and confidence to leave their old lives behind.
Whether it’s three regular guys named David, Victor and Ben toiling away on a pilot script in some seedy valley apartment, or David O. Selznick, Victor Fleming and Ben Hecht working on the most popular film of all time at Warner Bros. Studios, their goal is identical. Create a blockbuster, win an Academy Award and forever possess the freedom to make the exact movies you want to make for the rest of your career.
Ron Hutchinson’s clever “Moonlight and Magnolias” deconstructs this Hollywood dream through the eyes of three men responsible for creating the movie version of “Gone with the Wind.” Currently running at the Colony in Burbank, the entire comedy takes place in the office of legendary producer David O. Selznick, but never feels claustrophobic. Every gritty period detail of life behind the scenes has been included, offering a historically accurate and endlessly fascinating perspective on producing the most viewed film of all time.
The year is 1939, and Selznick (Roy Abramsohn) has temporarily halted production of his epic adaptation of Margaret Mitchell's novel “Gone with the Wind.” Dozens of rewrites have failed to trim the fat from the book’s bloated narrative, nor managed to gloss over some of the more unpleasant racial overtones present in the American Civil War-set story.
Selznick replaced the film’s original director three weeks into filming and hired “Wizard of Oz” helmer Victor Fleming, who also voices his displeasure with the screenplay. Enter Ben Hecht, script doctor extraordinaire. Hecht (Matt Gottlieb) has a lengthy resume and strong belief system, and he balks at including the uglier aspects of Mitchell’s extremely dense novel in his screen version.
Hecht still manages to rewrite the entire screenplay in one week, but only because Selznick forces the issue. When the film’s new director Fleming (Brendan Ford) arrives for a meeting, Selznick bolts his office door and tells them they can’t leave until their work is finished. His loyal secretary Miss Poppenghul (Emily Eiden) provides the only daily sustenance for their sleepless ordeal—peanuts and bananas.
Director Andrew Barnicle manages to make this talky play’s two-hour running time fly by, juicing up the lack of action with heavy doses of humor and slapstick. The preachy speeches of the leads eventually become repetitive, but overall the story works well considering the point of view is so narrow.
The Colony Theatre Company excels at these intimate historical dramas, mainly due to solid production values. The set is the highlight here, making up for some unimaginative lighting. Robert T. Kyle, Red Colgrove and Stephen Gifford are part of the crew responsible for recreating the richly detailed office of David O. Selznick, complete with a giant window overlooking the studio lot.
Abramsohn lacks gravitas as Selznick, but his performance gets better as “Moonlight and Magnolias” becomes crazier in the second act.
Ford has several funny bits as Fleming, especially when the exhausted director must act out the story for Hecht, who insists he never read the source material.
Eiden turns a bit part into some of the most brilliant comedy of the show with her expert timing and diction.
But it’s Gottlieb who steals most of “Moonlight and Magnolias,” bringing a wild-eyed believability to Hecht’s crusty demeanor and unbreakable opinions. It's men like Hecht who still land in Hollywood every day, not willing to compromise an inch while seeking Oscar gold.
James Petrillo is an actor and screenwriter from Los Angeles.
What: “Moonlight and Magnolias” by Ron Hutchinson
Where: The Colony Theatre Company, 555 N. Third St., Burbank, adjacent to the Burbank Town Center
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through March 6; Question-and-Answer Talk-Back performance with the cast on Thursday following the show.
Tickets: $20 to $42 (student, senior and group discounts available)
Contact: (818) 558-7000 or visit www.colonytheatre.orgCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times