Good Company Players’ “Moonlight and Magnolias” is “based” on a true story. You know how that can go. It’s pretty likely the bare facts are based in reality while the details are as manufactured as a new coach in a mobile home park.
When your subject matter is the creation of a legendary movie like “Gone With the Wind,” however, with your characters such towering Hollywood icons as movie magnate David O. Selznick and director Victor Fleming, you can get away with a lot in the name of artistic license. In this wacky and overblown comedy, which received its off-Broadway premiere in 2005, playwright Ron Hutchinson turns a famed cram session between talented moviemakers into a silly romp.
The premise: Selznick (played by Henry Montelongo), whose reputation and bankroll is riding on the transformation of Margaret Mitchell’s best-selling novel into the most anticipated movie of the year, isn’t happy with the first five weeks of filming of “Gone With the Wind.” He fires the director and screenwriter and puts the production on hold.
Selznick summons hot-shot screenwriter Ben Hecht (played by Gordon Moore) to his office for a five-day rewrite binge session, along with Fleming (Eric Estep), whom he yanks off the set of “The Wizard of Oz” for this project.
Here’s the comic twist: Hecht hasn’t read the lengthy book, so Selznick and Fleming act out key scenes for him. Such an approach offers many Scarlett O’Hara- and Prissy-inspired gender-bending moments, which gives us, among other things, the disturbingly funny image of Estep splayed out in a full-fledged child-bearing mode on the floor of the 2nd Space Theatre.
There are quite a few humorous bits, particularly if you’re a fan of the movie. (Just how did Clark Gable’s famed “frankly my dear” line come about?) Director Denise Graziani keeps things whipping along at a satisfyingly quick pace.
The only major flaw with the performances on opening night was a tendency for Montelongo to rush dialogue and swallow words in his blustery diatribes. Too often Montelongo spoke like a man wanting to get all his words out before his listener gets bored; he has to remember that as an all-controlling studio czar, he can afford to make other people wait for him to say whatever he wants.
Montelongo is about 85 percent of the way there to creating a memorably bombastic and self-absorbed character, but his frantic energy was just a little too over the top.
Moore offers an amusing and giddy performance as the put-upon Hecht, while Estep offers an amiable turn as the thin-skinned Fleming, striking a rich vein of career insecurity along the way. Bailey Johnson, as Selznick’s put-upon secretary, gets some nice, understated comic moments as well.
David Pierce’s opulent art deco design is gorgeous, and Ginger Kay Lewis-Reed’s period costumes and Hannah Wilson’s lights are just fine.
My real reservation about the show is the script. The farcical elements aren’t enough to carry a whole show, and when Hutchinson tries to go deeper, with a theme involving the treatment of Jews in Hollywood, it feels awkwardly tacked on. The play feels predictable once you get over the jauntiness of the premise.
There is one truly intriguing moment offered by the playwright. He calls for a moment in which an annoyed Selznick “freezes” onstage while Hecht and Fleming have a moment to themselves to discuss the big boss.
Perhaps “Moonlight” needed more of this theatricality, more of a sense of slyly subverting reality, to be a smart and cohesive outing. There are some easy laughs, but without much magic, you get a fairly forgettable play about a memorable movie. And for that, frankly, it’s hard to give much of a damn.
Moonlight and Magnolias
- Runs through Feb. 21
- 2nd Space Theatre, 928 E. Olive Ave.
- www.gcplayers.com, 559-266-0660
- $20, $17 students and seniors