New York City Theater
"Moonlight and Magnolias"
City Center Stage
"Moonlight and Magnolias" is Ron Hutchinson's schizoid detailing of what went on behind the scenes during the making of "Gone With the Wind." It's a promising premise, although the play doesn't know whether it wants to be an outright farce or a serious treatise on prejudice. Of course, it could be both, with one supporting the other, but it doesn't work out that way.
It takes place in producer David O. Selznick's office where he keeps writer Ben Hecht and director Victor Fleming virtual prisoners. They need to fix the screenplay of Margaret Mitchell's novel while the production has shut down. Re-enacting many scenes - posing as Scarlett, Prissy and others - the three men exist on bananas and peanuts, tended to by an increasingly haggard secretary - a situation ripe for laughs.
The first act is frenetic farce and contortionist camp, leaving many of the audience in stitches. The second half delves more into Selznick's Jewishness and his desire to outgun his formidable father-in-law, Louis B. Mayer.
There's a story to be told about Hollywood moguls, most of whom were Jewish and trying not to stir up latent anti-Semitism (see Neal Gabler's "An Empire of Their Own "). And the work pits together three volatile geniuses at the top of their profession. But the play is thinner than the thinnest of matzos and devolves into silliness, despite the commendable efforts of actors Douglas Sills, Matthew Arkin, David Rasche and Karen Trott under Lynne Meadow's direction.
At one point, Selznick says about audiences, "You have to give them what they want, not what's good for them." Judging by the guffaws at the performance I caught, maybe this trifle will fill the bill.
-- David A. Rosenberg
April 20, 2005