‘Moonlight and Magnolias’ Is for Laughs

From the moment you enter the auditorium for Mill Mountain Theatre’s production of “Moonlight and Magnolias” it is obvious that this glitzy art deco set is going to play a big part in your evening. And it does.

Jimmy Ray Ward’s set, the office of movie studio head David O. Selznick, is as much a character in this play–based upon the writing of the screenplay¬† for “Gone with the Wind”–as are Selznick, Ben Hecht and Victor Fleming. Those three men spend the two hours of the play sequestered in the office trying to come up with a script for the big, expensive production of one of America’s most popular books.

I will mention here that I googled the various sets used throughout the regional theaters in the country producing “Moonlight and Magnolias” and couldn’t find one nearly so spectacular as that at MMT. The details, which include old movie posters (one with Jean Arthur, my favorite actress) and studio publicity head shots of actors, are as interesting as the margins of Mad Magazine.

Through the course of the five days of Hect writing (actually it took two weeks) and Selznick and Fleming acting out the play, the office becomes thoroughly trashed, as do the principal characters, played by Sid Solomon, J. Richey Nash and Patrick Halley, all New York-based equity actors. That these actors are pros is obvious from the opening lines through the closing bows.

“Moonlight” is genuinely funny with peals of laughter flowing throughout and each of the three male leads taking turns in the spotlight. That spotlight is occasionally turned on Amanda Sox,(who works at MMT), Selznick’s beleaguered secretary Mrs. Poppenghul (the only character not based on a real person). She doesn’t have a lot to do, but she’s very funny doing it. Ms. Sox’s husband, Jay Briggs, is the director, pulling the pieces together nicely.

As Hecht, who has not even read Margaret Mitchell’s soap opera of a book, taps the new screenplay (on an old metal portable typewriter), Fleming and Selznick act it out and therein lies the comedy. GWTW has run into a huge glitch, including a screenplay that doesn’t work. Selznick shuts down the production to get a new script and pulls in the former newspaperman (Hecht) and chauffeur (Fleming) to rework it. Fleming, in fact, is stolen from the set of “The Wizard of Oz.”

It is a lively evening with good performances, lots of bananas and peanuts (their diet for the five days) and many, many laughs.

The play runs through May 7. Tickets are $20 to $40 and can be ordered at 540-342-5740 or online (here).

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