IF YOU GO
What: Behind-the-scenes look at how the script for "Gone With The Wind" was written
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 4
Where: 701 5th Avenue South, Naples
Information: (239) 263-7990, naplesplayers.org
Something else: The downtown parking garage fills up quickly during season. Plan to arrive early or park in the new garage near the park.
On the Web: Sign up to receive more theater news from the Stage Door blog via email.
The Naples Players went back to the Old South Wednesday, revisiting Tara, Scarlett and Rhett. The occasion: "Moonlight & Magnolias," a slapstick retelling of how movie producers banged out a script for "Gone With the Wind." It's a rough journey - but an interesting one.
"Moonlight & Magnolias," from Ron Hutchinson, imagines a scenario in 1939 when producer David O. Selznick found himself without a script for "Gone With the Wind." He shuts down filming, yanks director Victor Fleming off "The Wizard of Oz" and calls in writer Ben Hecht. Hecht hasn't read the script - so Fleming and Selznick act out all 1,037 pages as Hecht taps away at his typewriter. "Moonlight & Magnolias" was also the final production of Bonita's Stage 88 theatre in February 2008.
That's the play. If it sounds funny - it is - at times. The three men debate how hard Scarlett should slap maid Prissy (the infamous "I don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' babies!" line) or argue about Rhett's infamous kiss-off to Scarlett ("Frankly my dear..."). An elegant Patti Caroli flits about the stage, tossing dirty looks and mouthing several dozen variations on "Yes, Mr. Selznick," "No, Mr. Selznick" and even taking notes with a banana.
Much of the night, however, is a tough slog akin to fighting the Civil War. The script attempts to marry slapstick hilarity (two grown men acting out Melanie's birth scene) with a serious discussion about anti-Semitism. The odd juxtaposition never works. Any time the dialogue veers from mint juleps to the Jewish plight, whatever momentum the show managed to build screeches to a halt.
Director Michael Scanlan makes choices that continually slow the pace of the show. An extended opening sequence plays a newsreel for the Selznick-produced "A Star is Born" while Caroli's character brings in flowers, bagels and more to his office. Only then does Shaver's character enter and the play begin.
All the empty frippery, with the audience sitting expectantly for several long minutes, does nothing to propel the show out of the starting blocks. The solid opening lines and one of the better jokes in the show - "You didn't read it? ... You didn't read the book?" - also gets lost.
While "Moonlight" is an excessively wordy script, the slapstick elements never gain traction or add real speed. Scanlan also stages Melanie Hamilton Wilkes's dramatic (and should be hilarious) birth scene to look almost like copulation. Elsewhere, the timing simply seems off - the script's one-liners, throwaway jokes and zingers minimized or just not emphasized. Some cast members also struggled with their lines on opening night.
There are positives. The show has its share of slapstick moments and Hutchinson litters the script with snappy bon mots. Fans of Margaret Mitchell's work will also chuckle as characters re-enact many of the famous scenes.
Randall Jones has two speeds for his movie mogul David O. Selznick - loud and louder. The frantic, flamboyant energy helps animate the show, but Scanlan would have done well to steer it (and harness Jones's dramatic flair) at least a little.
Jones is - by far - the most vibrant character on the stage. Audiences may be divided by his over-the-top performance, but he does communicate Selznick's desperation and bravado. Watching him flounce around as a mincing Scarlett - with a flower in his hand - brings some of the night's biggest laughs.
Joel Hawkins makes for a steely Victor Fleming. Adam Shaver brings a determined crankiness to co-opted screen writer Ben Hecht. The pair have good chemistry together; constant writer-vs-director arguments are some of the night's high points. One of the only moments when the play's social commentary breaks through comes as the two debate escape - and the debt they owe Selznick.
Mike Santos creates a tasteful, spacious office set in rich shades of ruby, emerald and walnut with careful art deco touches (lights, doors, lintels). A proscenium arch nods to the traditions of the time period and mimics the filmstrip of the MGM logo.
Stage curtains frame a large screen at the rear of the "office" that holds a projection of the Hollywood sign for most of the show (in reality, it read "Hollywoodland" until 1949). Black-and-white newsreel clips play during an act break. Audiences are meant to think of a period film-going experience, but its jarringly out of context. The screen feels like "because we could" techno-wizardry instead of a legitimate design choice; it's under-used and rarely reinforces the action on stage.
"Moonlight & Magnolias" offers up a vivid picture of the creative process behind one of cinema's great films. Look for Jones vamping across the stage while acting out scenes as Scarlett O'Hara, Hawkins skipping as a dawdling Prissy and Shaver as a stubborn scriptwriter.
Yes, Mr. Selznick. No, Mr. Selznick. I'd like a raise, Mr. Selznick. Email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.