Let’s not beat around the bush. Dorset Theatre Festival had been slipping for the last couple of years. Don’t get me wrong. The shows have been good enough and the people and the experience have always been great, but somehow, it just didn’t live up to expectations. Everyone seemed to be in agreement that the Golden Age had come and gone.
But I’m here to let it be known far and wide that with “Moonlight and Magnolias,” Dorset Theatre Festival is back!
Written by Ron Hutchinson and directed by DTF regular, John Morrison, “Moonlight and Magnolias” shows us what might have happened when legendary producer, David O. Selznick (Erik Gratton), locked screenwriter Ben Hecht (Jim Shankman) and director Victor Fleming (Douglas Coler) in his studio office for five days, and commanded them to rewrite the stalled production of Gone With The Wind. At a cost of $50,000 day, Selznick throws out the previous drafts and stakes his reputation on whatever it is that the three of them can craft in these five days. The bad news is that Hecht hasn’t read the book and doesn’t know fiddle-dee-dee about Scarlett O’Hara.
Sounds a wee bit intense, right?
In real life, perhaps it was. But Hutchinson isn’t trying to capture real life. Instead, he’s trying to entertain his audience. Which means that he re-imagines the entire experience almost as if the Marx Bros. were in charge. With Hecht stationed at the typewriter, Selznick and Fleming act out the entire story, interrupted only by Selznick’s quirky secretary, Miss Poppenghul (Sara Peterson), delivering more peanuts and bananas (brain food). From Ashley to Rhett, from birthin’ babies to burning Atlanta, they do it all, and every single bit of it is hilarious.
That’s not to say that Hutchinson doesn’t address some of the broader cultural issues that Gone with the Wind conjures up. Hutchinson has made Hecht a socially-conscious liberal who is trying to find the message in Mitchell’s famed novel, but Selznick’s steadfast artistic vision and Fleming’s everyman persona refuse to let Hecht craft the heavy-handed cultural critique that he has in mind. And while the cultural issues are present, Hutchinson never lets them overwhelm his main goal: to make the audience laugh.
And on that issue, he succeeds.
Moonlight and Magnolias plays at the Dorset Theatre Festival until June 24, 2006.
For more information or to purchase tickets call the box office 802-867-5777 or check out the website http://www.dorsettheatrefestival.com