Review: 'Moonlight and Magnolias' glows

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LALT’s latest production sheds some light on the struggles of making ‘Gone With the Wind’

By Jennifer Garcia

Being trapped in a room with a boss and co-worker probably isn’t how most people want to spend a day, never mind five days, especially when there’s only peanuts and bananas for subsistence, but that’s exactly how Victor Fleming, Ben Hecht and David O. Selznick spent a week while working on the screenplay for “Gone With the Wind.”
Los Alamos Little Theater’s latest production, “Moonlight and Magnolias,” by Ron Hutchinson, chronicles the trio’s journey to write what would become a very well known film.
The play starts out with Selznick shutting down production of the film. He soon employs Hecht and Fleming, who will ultimately write the screenplay. He tells his secretary Miss Poppenguhl that there are to be no interruptions while the group is working, then promptly locks them and himself in his office. Poppenguhl is also unable to leave, as she must be at Selznick’s beck and call.
Larry Gibbons plays Ben Hecht, who doubts that “Gone With the Wind” will be worth viewing and is therefore reluctant to write the script.
Paul Lewis plays Fleming. Fresh off of directing “The Wizard of Oz,” he is also reluctant to work on “Gone With the Wind.” He also quickly realizes that he and Hecht don’t see eye-to-eye. Regardless, Selznick persuades them both to give the screenplay a shot.
What happens after that is sprinkled with racial tension and loaded with humor. The trio quickly finds out that writing a screenplay in five days is more work then they anticipated and all parties involved become testy and crabby.
Warren Houghteling plays the part of Selznick well. He’s animated, funny and tries to keep the peace between Fleming and Hecht, while inspiring them both to do their best work. He wants the screenplay written, but also wants Hecht and Fleming to work on it because everyone else he’s employed for the task has failed. He tries his best to inspire the duo, but finds it to be a difficult task at times.
Lewis’ facial expressions portray his exhaustion and frustration with Gibbons’ and Houghteling’s characters, as does his sometimes-colorful language.
Gibbons’ character is a cranky screenplay writer and former newspaper reporter. His sarcasm raises the ire of Fleming and they are constantly engaging in verbal sparring matches. He seems genuinely frustrated as he and Lewis exchange words. His anger is convincing, as is Lewis’.
Lewis breathes life into the character of Fleming, who is a cranky fellow. He believes his part as a director to be more important that Hecht’s role as a writer and never fails to pass up an opportunity to tell him so. He’s full of himself and wants to make sure that both Hecht and Selznick know their places. Fleming’s anger-fueled tirades were notorious from his work on the set of “The Wizard of Oz,” and it’s revealed that he once slapped Judy Garland after she had a giggle fit.
The slapping continues in “Moonlight and Magnolias,” as Fleming slaps Hecht, who in turn, slaps Selznick, after which a Three Stooges-like round of slapping ensues.
Kate Ramsey plays the part of Poppenguhl. Like any good secretary during that time period, she does what Selznick tells her to do, so she’s constantly answering phone calls, taking messages, notes, and running from her workspace to his office to bring the trio peanuts and bananas. She’s a typical people-pleaser. Though she has a sunny disposition at the beginning of the play, she’s at her wit’s end by the conclusion. To add to the overall feeling of exhaustion, her perfectly coiffed hair is in disarray and she has a disheveled appearance at the end of the play and even loses her red high heels.
The cast does an outstanding job of portraying the tension and animosity contained in the room during the process of writing “Gone With the Wind.” Anger, frustration, exhaustion and giddiness, infused with humor are all portrayed very well.
The set design is simple, but convincing. Selznick’s desk, as well as a small typewriter table, a couch and other simple decorations adorn the set, transporting all involved to a long-forgotten time. The items capture the feel of what it might be like to visit a producer’s office in 1930’s Hollywood.
The costumes are simple and consist of professional work clothes, i.e., slacks, button-down shirts and ties and capture the feel of the time period, as well as the professional atmosphere of the producer’s office.
Though “Moonlight and Magnolias,” is humorous at times, there is also some strong language and adult humor, and is better suited for adults.