AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Ron Hutchinson
Directed by Lennon Smith
Presented by Dragon Productions
Dragon Productions Theatre
2120 Broadway St., Redwood City, CA / (650) 493-2006

Reviewed by Judy Richter

"Moonlight and Magnolias" is a behind-the-scenes look into the process of transferring "Gone With the Wind" from print to screen 75 years ago.

Based on actual events, Ron Hutchinson's comedy shows that despite the book's enormous popularity, it wasn't easy to distill the 1,037-page saga of the Civil War South by Margaret Mitchell.

Dragon Theatre's intimate stage (set by Kevin Dunning) facilitates the sense of confinement imposed by producer David O. Selznick (Aaron Weisberg), who brings in newspaperman Ben Hecht (Dave Leon) to write the screenplay with the assistance of director Victor Fleming (Bill C. Jones). Hecht is trying to succeed where numerous other writers have failed.

There's one more problem: Hecht hasn't read the book. Therefore, his two colleagues venture to re-enact it for him during the five days that all three are locked in Selznick's office with nothing to eat except bananas and peanuts.

Their only contact with the outside world is Selznick's beleaguered secretary, Miss Poppenghul (Sarah Benjamin).

In the process, Hecht objects to the book's explicit racism. He also equates that racism with the anti-semitism that the two of them and numerous other Hollywood luminaries have faced.

The recently defunct San Jose Repertory Theatre successfully presented the Bay Area premiere of the play in 2006 under the astute direction of Timothy Near. Unfortunately, Dragon director Lennon Smith seems unequal to the play's challenge.

Weisberg and Jones do fairly well as Selznick and Fleming, respectively, but Leon is too one-dimensional as Hecht. Benjamin seems to be directed to be one step above the dumb blond, belying the efficiency of the character's actions.

Thus the play tends to be flat rather than funny, a disservice to this look at what it takes to create cinematic magic, which is what "Gone With the Wind" was and still is.

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