‘Moonlight & Magnolias’

By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

Three men plus a typewriter plus a week’s worth of peanuts and bananas equals the script to “Gone With the Wind,” right? Something like that.
That’s the set-up to the comedy “Moonlight & Magnolias,” produced by Tupelo Community Theatre. In the play, the film’s producer, David O. Selznick (Todd Barnett), is unhappy with the direction of the movie and shuts down production two weeks into filming. He fires the film’s director and hires director Victor Fleming (John Carroll), who also directed “The Wizard of Oz,” and screenwriter Ben Hecht (Bobby Geno), known for writing films like “Some Like It Hot” and “Underworld,” for which he was the first screenwriter to receive an Academy Award.
Under pressure to continue filming quickly, the three men lock themselves in a hotel – with only bananas and peanuts to eat – and knock out the script to one of the most beloved films in just five days.
“This is a farcical retelling of actual events,” said director Jonathan Martin. “According to the memoirs of Ben Hecht and Victor Fleming, the three of them did rewrite the script in one week. As to whether they were locked in there eating only peanuts and bananas, we don’t know.”
One doesn’t have to be a “Gone With the Wind” fan to appreciate “Moonlight & Magnolias.”
“The comedy is appealing to an audience unfamiliar with ‘Gone With the Wind,’” Martin said, “but fans of ‘Gone With the Wind’ will take extra pleasure with the backstage and inside-Hollywood nuggets sprinkled throughout.”
That’s a challenge for Geno, a huge “Gone With the Wind” fan. His character, screenwriter Hecht, has never read the book, so he’s appalled by some of the things that happen in the story – like slavery, murder and adultery – and has trouble writing Scarlett as a sympathetic character.
“I know what’s happening (in ‘Gone with the Wind’), but Ben doesn’t. I have to look astonished, surprised, at what goes on,” Geno said.
Meanwhile, Carroll is having a blast playing Fleming. Fleming, Selznick and Hecht have to reenact scenes from the book to get it right for the script, so that has the three guys turning to slapstick comedy.
“(The play) really cranks up the situations, and Victor Fleming will not shy away from those situations,” Carroll said. “He’s almost hamming it up.”
Barnett has done his research on Selznick, reading two books about the Hollywood legend who had drug problems and left memos for himself and everyone else in his life.
“It gives me a range,” Barnett said. “I have a full palette of things to paint with.”
Martin has directed two other comedies for TCT, “Harvey” and “Second Samuel,” both of them with Barnett in the lead. The pair said “Moonlight & Magnolias” is the funniest.
“This has a lot more energy,” Barnett said, “and a lot more fun packed in.”
sheena.barnett@journalinc.com