POSTED ON JULY 20, 2011:
A Light Wind
Playhouse Tulsa explores the funny, farcical side of creating Gone With the Wind
Everyone knows Gone with the Wind, but few, when asked to describe it, would select words like "hilarious," "slapstick" or "farce." And rightfully so, because the epic 1939 film is none of those things. But Ron Hutchinson's 2004 play about what happened behind the scenes, during the film's production, is.
Moonlight and Magnolias, which debuted at City Center Stage, presented by Manhattan Theater Club, in 2005 and is being produced locally by Playhouse Tulsa this weekend, tells the 90-percent true tale of David O. Selznick's efforts to save the film by rewriting its script.
The film was three years in the making -- it took two for Selznick to select an actress suitable for playing Scarlett O'Hara -- and three weeks into production when the producer shut it down because he wasn't satisfied with the script.
He fired the director, George Cukor, and brought in Victor Fleming, who was working on The Wizard of Oz. He also hired Ben Hecht, a playwright whom he trusted, to revamp -- or rewrite -- the script.
Hecht agreed to spend five days working on the project, but there was one problem: He hadn't read the book. So Selznik locked him and Fleming in his office for five days, and he and Fleming acted out the book for Hecht, who rewrote the script.
"Selznik had a touch of the crazy," said Chris Crawford, artistic director of Playhouse Tulsa and the actor charged with bringing Selznick's crazy to life on stage. "There had been seven or eight people who had already written screenplays for the film. He was spending thousands upon thousands upon thousands of dollars at that time, which was like millions and millions and millions of dollars. And Selznik decided he did not like how things were going and so he closed production down. He wouldn't let the actors leave, he wouldn't let anyone stop working, but he closed down production."
He fed the two men in his company nothing but bananas and peanuts -- they're brain food, he asserted -- and he didn't allow visitors or phone calls.
In the play, the week ends with a new script, but, in reality, it's not clear how much of the script was used. Selznick has been quoted as saying: "As to construction, this is about 80 percent my own, and the rest divided between Jo Swerling and Sidney Howard, with Hecht having contributed materially to the construction of one sequence," and Howard was given credit as screenwriter.
The play does, though, incorporate tidbits of gossip from that era of Hollywood, as well as a fair amount of research into the lives and personalitities of its three principals.
Playhouse Tulsa's version is directed by Courneay Sanders, associate artistic director for Playhouse and director of theater at Oral Roberts University (where Crawford also teaches), who also directed the play for ORU in 2008.
This version reprises ORU's cast, with Crawford as Selznick, Tony Schneider as Fleming and Matt Bitner as Hecht, and adds Kara Staiger as Selznick's assistant, Miss Poppengul.
But the show Playhouse is staging now isn't the same one ORU put up in 2008, Sanders said.
"These actors are in very different places now, as far as their training and their growth, so they're approaching it very differently than they did four years ago," she said.
Schneider and Bitner were students at ORU when they performed their roles the first time, and Crawford has founded a theater company in the three-year interim.
"Selznick is very much OCD," Crawford said. "Whatever thing is in front of him at the time is what gets 150 to 200 percent of his attention and energy. They said that he would send memos about everything -- and that's a gag that plays out in the show -- but he one time sent out a 27-page-long menu to the camera crew of some film, and the last sentence of the memo was, 'Never mind, the issue has been resolved. Please disregard this memo.'
"And I think I identify with him, not so much on an OCD level -- well, maybe a little bit -- but on a level of understanding the pressure of running something. And knowing that, if it's a success, you're going to be the first person everyone's gonna' congratulate. And if it's a failure, you're going to be the first person everyone's gonna' stone."
Playhouse is excited to introduce the play to new audiences who likely did not see the show when ORU performed it, Crawford said, as well as to fans of Gone with the Wind.
"If you know the movie and you know the book, it's so much fun to see where these lines came from," he said. "Some of the most iconic lines in film history come from normal conversations, and they're like, 'Oh, yeah, put that in.'"
Playhouse Tulsa presents Moonlight and Magnolias July 21-24 in the Tulsa Performing Arts Center's John H. Williams Theatre. The curtain goes up at 7:30pm Thursday through Saturday and at 2pm on Sunday. Tickets are $20 and available at tulsapac.com.
The 'burbs brought to life
For the first time, the City of Tulsa-owned and operated Heller and Clark theaters are collaborating on a musical production, Suburb the Musical. Written by David Javerbaum and Robert S. Cohen, the play takes an insightful, witty and nuanced look at the world of the lawnmower, the barbecue and the mall, exploring suburban rites and rituals.
A young married couple pregnant with their first child, Alison and Stuart find themselves at odds over living in the suburbs. Stuart longs for suburban life, but Alison aims to avoid it at all costs.
The cast includes David Zeliff, Susan Dergoul, Mvnte July, April Lay, Emma Francois, Kelley Childers Friedberg, Kathleen Guedry, Melissa Harris, Paul Henry, Mary Keaney, Wes Vrooman, George Romero and Jack Allen. Sally Adams directs.
The play runs July 22-23 and 29-30 at 7:30pm and July 24 and 31 at 2pm at the Henthorne Performing Arts Center, 4825 S. Quaker Ave. Tickets and information are available by calling 918-746-5065.
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