Tuesday, December 6, 2011

On Stage: Moonlight and Magnolias

Last Friday I had the pleasure of going to my favorite playhouse in town, the aptly-named              Santa Fe Playhouse.  It's a small location without a bad seat in the house and it's celebrating its 90th birthday.  Currently showing at the Playhouse is Moonlight and Magnolias, a four-man play billed as an "uproarious comedy."

Photo by Steve Collins c/o santafetravelers.com
Moonlight and Magnolias is a based on the true events leading up to the movie release of Gone With the Wind.  The first act begins with the high strung producer, David Selznick, announcing that he has shut down the movie only a few weeks in because he simply doesn't believe in the project.  This is clearly agonizing as the studio has fronted an ungodly sum of money to get this picture rolling.  Add to that pressure from the public that has read the best-selling book and are highly vested in the movie's outcome.  In other words, there is a lot of hype to live up to.

Selznick decides to bring in his screenwriting pal, Ben Hecht, to revamp the script.  Here's the catch- Hecht has never read the book and he only has three days to write the script.  Selznick also brings in Victor Fleming, a film director one week out from completing The Wizard of Oz.  Selznick traps all three of them inside his office for a three-day long screen writing marathon. Selznick and Fleming act out each scene while Hecht crafts the dialogue into a script.  They are only permitted to eat bananas and peanuts.  I don't know why, but them's the rules.  Hi-jinks ensue!

Ben Hecht in a much less frazzled state.

 So, did I like it?  Yes and no.  First the yes:  The actor who plays Hecht, Dan Gerrity, is fantastic.  He has great comedic timing and he really brought Hecht to life as a real person.  Fleming and Selznick tended toward caricature.  Sometimes caricature can be funny, and it is at times in Moonlight and Magnolias, but it does get tiresome over the course of the play.

The other "yes" was Hecht's objection to the racism contained in Gone With the Wind.  He argues with Selznick several times that, as Jewish Americans, they cannot produce a movie that glorifies slavery on moral and ethical grounds.  Selznick convinces Hecht that the movie is worth doing anyway as the story itself is compelling, not to mention the extraordinarily high stakes for his studio.  Selznick  argued that he can break out of the cage of his ethnic stereotype by producing something mainstream and loved by all.  Hecht disagreed and argued that by creating Gone With the Wind they were not "breaking free" of anything; rather, they were selling out, becoming assimilated, and losing their identities.  I felt this theme ought to have deserved more lip service as it was genuinely interesting.  Ultimately, Hecht decides to continue writing the screenplay because he does not want to leave Selznick high and dry and also because Selznick has offered him a princely sum.   Maybe that is the one true bleak & universal message- everyone has a price.  Hmm.  Despite my bleak realization right there, there are quite a number of good zingers, comedy, and levity in the play.  As I said, hi-jinks.

Now the no:  I have never read Gone With the Wind or seen Gone With the Wind.  Yeah. Kind of a big deal when going to see an entire play about the making of Gone With the Wind.  As GWTW is enough of a cultural phenomenon, I know the main plots and references.  I know there are multitudes of GWTW lovers out there who would be thrilled to go behind the scenes and see how it was done.  But, unfortunately, I am not one of those people.

Don't be a moron like me. Watch this movie first.
If you decide to go, it is playing now through December 18th on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.  Tickets are $20, which is a freaking steal, or you can really go on the cheap on Thursdays for $10.  There are also discounts for students, teachers, and seniors.  The seats are general admission so it's not a bad idea to arrive there early, especially if you're in a larger group.  But, like I said before, it's a cozy stage and there are no bad seats in the joint.

How a request to the commentariat:  Do you have any recommendations for current or upcoming performing arts events in and around Santa Fe that I can attend and then review for The Mad Mex?  If so, POST BELOW!

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