‘Moonlight and Magnolias’ at Colonial Players by Amanda Gunther

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“Frankly, my dear I don’t give a damn.” One of these most famous lines in cinematic history, but did you know that only part of it came from the book? Find out deliciously rich secrets like this and other wonderfully maddening fun facts about the movie production of Gone With The Wind as Colonial Players closes their 63rd season with Ron Hutchinson’s Moonlight and Magnolias. A brilliantly witty play that will keep you laughing while tugging at your heartstrings the fun and fast-paced production is the perfect end to the season and a great way to welcome summer into the heart of Annapolis theatre. Directed by Ron Giddings, the show is wildly entertaining and presents a side of the Hollywood hay-day that many of us have never considered.

(l to r) Victor Fleming (Kevin Wallace) Ben Hecht (Jim Reiter) and David O. Selznick (Michael Forgetta). Photo courtesy of Colonial Players.

Set Designer Ron Giddings combined with Costume Designer Elaine Claar take the audience directly to 1939. The stage is set in a Hollywood Studio producer’s office and that is apparently clear from the moment the audience is seated in the theatre. No detail is spared by Giddings as he sets an old-fashioned switch-board call box at the telephone and uses time-appropriate desk lamps and black glitter formica top surfaces to authenticate the look. Claar puts each of the three men in rather dapper suits, making them look every bit the big Hollywood schmoozers they are, complete with shiny polished shoes and tightly knotted ties. These attentions to detail keep the focus on the time and setting of the play so that the actors can focus on delivering all the hilarity of Hutchinson’s work.

The three men are the unifying element to this show. The plot is actually very entertaining. The biggest bodice-ripper turned historical fantasy novel has captured the hearts of millions of Americans and is about to be made into a film. Only there’s no screenplay. So production on Hollywood’s next big movie comes to a screeching halt. Producer David Selznick, in a panic, pulls director Victor Fleming off The Wizard of Oz project, and brings in writer Ben Hecht. He locks the three of them in his office for five days with a diet of peanuts and bananas in an attempt to pump out the most epic screenplay of the time. Comedy ensues.

(l to r) Victor Fleming (Kevin Wallace) David O. Selznick (on the ground- Michael Forgetta) and Ben Hecht (Jim Reiter). Photo courtesy of Colonial Players.

Ron Giddings gets the bang for his buck out of his actors. Every moment is alive with feeling in this production. There are no lulls or pauses, even when the action has rolled to a stand-still, there is still passionate pumping energy surging through the actors as they lay out their lines, discussing intently what to do and where to go next. Giddings imports a sense of realistic hysterics to the actors; three men trapped with no real food or sleep for five days, desperate to complete a seemingly simple task. The result is beyond uproarious and this show is not to be missed this season.

David O. Selznick (Michael Forgetta) is the driving force behind the operation. At first Forgetta appears as the stereotypical sleazy Hollywood producer, out to turn a buck into a huge profit. He’s unctuous and very convincing when he speaks. But as his character’s desperation becomes clear he falls into a more subdued version of a man who is simply pursuing a dream. Forgetta’s enactment of the various characters from the novel, such as Scarlett and Ashley, is hysterical. He adapts a falsetto and prances around the office space in a manner that keeps the audience roaring with laughter.

The screenwriter, Ben Hecht (Jim Reiter) is equally as priceless, being the one who has never read the novel, at least not beyond the first page. Reiter’s dark sarcastic approach to the character matches Forgetta’s sleazy approach to Selznick in passion and energy. His physicality is greatly involved in the character’s outbursts. During his second breakdown of attempting to figure out both what and who Scarlett wants, Reiter is like an explosive hummingbird jumping up and down flitting here and there with a spastic energy that consumes him. He snaps and swaps insults with Victor in a rapid match of repartee, each one growing in vocal magnitude. His shining moment occurs when trying to type Prissy’s speech, jamming his hands faster and faster against the typewriter as he shouts louder and louder, running out of breath as he rips the sheet from the typewriter. It’s an epic moment of hilarity.

But the thunder of the scene comes mostly from Victor Fleming (Kevin Wallace). He’s a charming suave son of a bitch that is comedy incarnate. Wallace is the most physically and emotionally expressive letting his face do most of the work when his voice does not. He has the best comic outbursts clearly showing he is comically at the end of his rope. And the further his character falls into madness the further Wallace takes the gestures; falling on the floor, flipping out over a burst blood vessel, racing for the door. Wallace is a true comic delight in this performance and his interactions with the others are priceless.

There is one point where the three actors break down into a series of Three-Stooges-style triangle slap fighting. Forgetta, Reiter, and Wallace turn this farcical moment into an all out, guns blazing, banana slinging peanut throwing explosion of chaos. You’ve never seen three men be so ridiculously hysterical and sensationally committed to their characters like these three. By the end of the show, these three talented men have gone bonkers and it’s a great comic ride for all who get the pleasure of seeing it.

(l to r) Ben Hecht- Jim Reiter) Victor Fleming (Kevin Wallace) and David O. Selznick (Michael Forgetta). Photo courtesy of Colonial Players.

Running Time: 95 minutes with no intermission.

Warning: This show contains the use of actual peanuts and peanut shells. Those with peanut allergies should take extreme caution.

Moonlight and Magnolias plays through June 30, 2012 at Colonial Players – 108 East Street, in Annapolis, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 268-7373, or purchase them online.