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THEATER REVIEW: “Moonlight And Magnolias” at Scripps Ranch Theatre

The making of the film version of “Gone With The Wind” is a story almost as wild as the plot itself. Here are just a few factoids:

Producer David O. Selznick had to wait two years to get Clark Gable (after being unable to get his first choice – Gary Cooper); it took him 1,400 auditions to find his Scarlett; director George Cukor was replaced in mid-shoot. He went through several screenwriters.

That’s where “Moonlight And Magnolias” comes in, Ron Hutchinson’s farce about the vagaries of Hollywood moguls and the risks filmmakers take.

Selznick (Jim Chovick) has just fired Cukor and asked, nay ordered Victor Fleming (Jonathan Sachs) to suspend filming on “The Wizard Of Oz” and take over directorial duties on this project.

Now he sits in his big office (kudos to set designer Andy Scrimger), bullying secretary Miss Poppenghul (a hilarious Susan Clausen) and trying to convince Hecht (Cris O’Bryon) to rewrite the script one more time. There’s only one small hitch: Hecht has not read the 1,000-page book – and Selznick needs the script in five days.

The solution? Selznick and Fleming will act out each scene, and Hecht will write ... to be repeated until completion, death from exhaustion or murder ends the process. For sustenance, they will have bananas and peanuts (the kind with shells), and the set with soon be strewn with peanut shells.

You can imagine the hilarity that could ensue with this setup. Rest assured that it does, and that Scripps Ranch Theatre director Matt Thompson and company not only sustain it but play this lightweight but delightfully funny material to the hilt.

Chovick has never been better than in this effort, the gruff but funny Selznick wielding his imaginary whip to get this project finished.

I can really identify with O’Bryon’s harried writer, trying to get the job done despite maximum (or at least hilarious) distractions.

Clausen is a hoot as the poor, beleaguered Miss Gooch-like secretary, doing her best to keep her boss happy.

Sachs’ Fleming is the soul of exasperation, especially with Hecht. When the conversation veers to the age-old question of who is more important, the writer or the director, Hecht sums up their mutual disdain: “I’m here to butcher the book. I’m sure we can trust you to butcher the script.”

Other topics arise, like Hollywood politics (and Hollywood AND politics), and what do audiences really want to see?

Of course, the film was finally completed, and in fact made film history, despite all the changes, squabbles and craziness.

“Moonlight And Magnolias” lets you in on the process, and gives you a chance to watch four fine actors work very hard at making comedy look easy.

The details

“Moonlight And Magnolias” plays through June 23 at Scripps Ranch Theatre, 9783 Avenue of Nations, off Pomerado Road in Scripps Ranch (on the campus of Alliant International University).

Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm.

Tickets: (858) 578-7728 or HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.