THEATER REVIEW: “Moonlight and Magnolias” @ Oldcastle [Berkshire on Stage]
Review by Gail M. Burns
Moonlight and Magnolias, currently on the boards at Bennington’s Oldcastle Theatre Company, centers on a story related in William MacAdams’ 1990 biography of Oscar-winning screenwriter Ben Hecht. A scene-setting quotation from MacAdams:
“At dawn on Sunday, February 20, 1939, David Selznick … and director Victor Fleming [who Selznick had pulled away from shooting ‘The Wizard of Oz’] shook Hecht awake to inform him he was on loan from MGM and must come with them immediately and go to work on ‘Gone with the Wind,’ which Selznick had begun shooting five weeks before. It was costing Selznick $50,000 each day the film was on hold waiting for a final screenplay rewrite and time was of the essence….Recalling the episode in a letter to screenwriter friend Gene Fowler, [Hecht] said he hadn’t read the novel but Selznick and director Fleming could not wait for him to read it. They would act out scenes based on Sidney Howard’s original script which needed to be rewritten in a hurry. Hecht wrote, ‘After each scene had been performed and discussed, I sat down at the typewriter and wrote it out. Selznick and Fleming, eager to continue with their acting, kept hurrying me. We worked in this fashion for seven days, putting in eighteen to twenty hours a day. Selznick refused to let us eat lunch, arguing that food would slow us up. He provided bananas and salted peanuts….thus on the seventh day I had completed, unscathed, the first nine reels of the Civil War epic.’”
You can see how this incident would intrigue a playwright. What was that week of bananas, peanuts and an impromptu two-man version of a Civil War epic like? The fact that it could be true and that the British-born Ron Hutchinson has obviously done his homework on the real lives of these three men make Moonlight and Magnolias both tantalizing and overwrought. But history has played a cruel trick since the play was written in 2004.