Springfield Contemporary Theatre's season continues with "Moonlight and Magnolias," Sept.12-28 at SCT Center Stage at Wilhoit Plaza (Corner of Pershing and Robberson). David Rice directs this outrageous comedy by Ron Hitchison, with David Waggoner portraying legendary Hollywood producer David O. Selznick. As Waggoner explains, Selznick had a problem... actually, several problems. George Cukor, Selznick's best friend and his hand-picked choice to direct the film version of Margaret Mitchell's novel Gone With the Wind, isn't working out. Cukor "was taking too long to shoot the first scene, he was adding in his own dialogue." No doubt Margaret Mitchell wasn't pleased--but then, according to Hitchison's play, she wanted Groucho Marx (!) to play Rhett Butler--so perhaps her opinion might not have counted for much. (Gone With the Wind doesn't take place in Freedonia, after all... Margaret Dumont as Scarlett, anyone?)
So Selznick fires Cukor. Now this huge project needed a director. Not only that, the script is on its umpteenth version. So Selznick desperately needed a both a new director and a new writer—immediately; however, the writer he wanted, script doctor Ben Hecht, had never read the novel. To take over directing, Selznick pulled Victor Fleming from the set of “The Wizard of Oz.” Selznick then took the rather extreme step of locking himself, Fleming and Hecht in his office with little more than peanuts, bananas and a typewriter for five days, and they proceeded to write and reenact the saga of Scarlett and Rhett. (As David Rice and David Waggoner tell us, Selznick "more or less kidnapped Victor Fleming and Ben Hecht!") That's the actual historical fact; what playwright Ron Hitchison has done with "Moonlight and Magnolias" is play fly-on-the-wall in David Selznick's office, filling in his own farcical details about what might have gone on during that hectic week.
In addition to director David Rice and actor David Hart Waggoner as Mr. Selznick, this Springfield-area premiere features Jeff Carney, Nanette Crighton, and David DePriest. Waggoner credits director Rice with many of the comedy bits in this production. "David (Rice) is the king of the 'bits.' There are 58 pages in the script, and I think there are 62 'bits'!"
David Rice says he's most fascinated by the playwright's depiction of screenwriter/"script-doctor" Ben Hecht, a legendary name in film history but largely unknown to the public at large. Rice says Hecht, as portrayed in "Moonlight and Magnolias," seems determined to make Margaret Mitchell's novel--"an elegy for the Old South"--into something "morally right." One of Hecht's pivotal lines in Hitchison's play is, "If anyone understands prejudice, it's us Jews!"
During our interview Rice tried, not too convincingly, to sell the play as less "slapstick" and more "good, intellectual comedy." When actor Waggoner demurred, Rice had to admit, "Okay... there IS some slapstick!"
Performances of "Moonlight and Magnolias" are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2:00pm Sept.12-28 at SCT Center Stage. For information call 831-8001 or visit www.springfieldcontemporarytheatre.org.