It's amazing to think what Margaret Mitchell wrought with her legendary novel Gone With the Wind. There's the movie, a couple of Broadway-flop musicals, several sequels, a satire of the book's racism called The Wind Done Gone (whose publication was fought by Mitchell's estate), and a TV movie about the film's casting. There are even two plays about events surrounding the work.
The latest of those, Moonlight and Magnolias, is now at the Little Lake Theatre -- which is presenting the other play, The Last Night of Ballyhoo, later this season.
Written by Ron Hutchinson, Moonlight and Magnolias is based on a Hollywood legend: Five weeks into the filming of GWTW, producer David O. Selznick fired director George Cukor, replaced him with Victor Fleming and brought in rewrite man Ben Hecht. And those three, literally locked in a room for five days, rewrote the entire script.
Much of that isn't really true, and Hutchinson spins it out even further. That's his prerogative, but a large portion of the first act depicts the three men acting out and rewriting the scene where Scarlett delivers Melly's baby ... and it's fairly well known that Cukor had already shot that scene, and that Fleming never reshot it.
When Hutchinson sticks to the comedic hijinks of three very outsized personalities trapped in one room and acting out arguably the most famous motion picture ever made, Moonlight and Magnolias is a pretty entertaining bit of fluff. At times, their antics resemble nothing so much as a Marx Brothers movie.
But GWTW comes with a ton of baggage. While it represents Hollywood-as-Dream-Factory filmmaking at the very zenith, it's an unforgivably racist film almost too painful to watch. Hutchinson feels that conflict, too, and tries to address it. Unfortunately, that means the play grinds to a halt while the characters discuss racism, anti-Semitism and assimilation in Los Angeles in the late 1930s. It's a dreadful artistic choice, and one from which the play never really recovers.
Mark A. Calla directs Chris Bondi, Jesse Warnick and Rick Bryant. It might have been opening-night jitters, but there's a bit too much underplaying going on right now. These men were all lions ready to fight to the death. So up the stakes a whole bunch more because, frankly, they all gave a damn. (Sorry about that.)
Moonlight and Magnolias continues through June 12. Little Lake Theatre, 500 Lakeside Drive South (off Route 19), Canonsburg. 724-745-6300 or www.littlelaketheatre.org