By Ron Hutchinson
April 28 – May 15, 2011
The Playhouse at Overture Center
Thursdays 7:30 pm: Pre-Show Talks 6:30 pm
Fridays 7:30 pm
Saturdays 8:00 pm
Sundays 2:00 pm: Pre-Show Talks 1:00 pm

1939 Hollywood is abuzz. Legendary producer David O. Selznick has shut down production of his new epic, Gone With the Wind, dissatisfied with the adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s 800-page book. In desperation he locks himself in his office with screenwriter Ben Hecht and director Victor Fleming, determined to fix the script. Subsisting only on peanuts and bananas, the three men struggle to fashion a screenplay for one of the most beloved stories of all time ‑ without losing their minds.

Forward Theater Company's funny Moonlight & Magnolias visits 1930s Hollywood
Katie Reiser, The Isthmus

Three weeks into the production of Gone With the Wind, producer David O. Selznick assembled in his office writer Ben Hecht and director Victor Fleming to completely rewrite the script. What might have happened?

That's the clever and ripe premise devised by playwright Ron Hutchison for Moonlight & Magnolias. Forward Theater Company's production opened Friday in Overture Center's Playhouse.

The play is largely a comedy, with splashes of broad slapstick. (Accent on the slap: there is some silly and satisfying Three Stoogesque business.) But there are also stretches of social commentary, as the men, and the audience, look at the realities of slavery and the Civil War -- as well as the anti-Semitism and the mounting threat of fascism at the time the movie was produced.

There are many laugh-out-loud moments. One is when the men try to figure out how to handle an iconic scene in which Scarlett, confronted with the stress of delivering Melanie's baby, slaps Prissy the slave for dawdling. This is a time when the push-pull of comedy and social commentary works.

The marvelous set is by Sasha Augustine. Oh, the gorgeous curves and angles of 1939! Augustine has lovingly and accurately captured the period in the desk and bar of Selznick's office: the fabric of the sofa, the rugs, the warm glow of the burl wood wall coverings, the perfect placement of exactly the art you'd expect a producer to hang on those walls.

Forward’s Moonlight and Magnolias – big brain, big guy, big shot, fun play
Christian Neuhaus,

The Selznick of Moonlight and Magnolias has to be a storyteller and boss, has to inspire, order, and beg. In performance Mark Ulrich made these seemingly divergent behaviors seem natural, fully selling me on the character’s extremes. Michael Herold as Hecht and Jim Buske as Fleming are a pleasure to watch as well, both for their individual performances and the comic antagonism between the two. Celia A. Klehr as executive assistant Miss Poppenghul was a welcome representative of the world outside Selznick’s office, communicating a long-suffering history with her boss in each “Yes, Mr. Selznick.”
The humor, performances, and evocation of a legendary piece of American culture make this a production that any movie fan and comedy fan will likely enjoy.

Sponsored by:
CUNA Mutual Group
JCP (John and Carolyn Peterson Charitable Foundation, Inc.)
Madison Community Foundation
Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission


Inspiration for Moonlight and Magnolias
Excerpt from the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s Moonlight and Magnolias Study Guide
by David G. Anderson

“The inspiration for Moonlight came when I was visiting my father in England. I was reading Daily, Daily, the autobiography of Ben Hecht’s week rewriting Gone with the Wind, and literally from one footstep to another, it struck me, wow—this is classical farce. Can you imagine? All the elements are there. Three high-powered individuals lock themselves in a room existing on peanuts and bananas, and they are ever mindful that the clock is ticking, in a total pressure cooker situation.”

There was no stretch of the imagination for Hutchinson to identify with Hecht. “I’ve been all around the world in closed hotel rooms from Libya, to Morocco, to Mexico hammering out new scripts with ulcer ridden, catatonic producers ever present. The most memorable was a few years back when they flew me to the Kalahari Desert in Africa to assist with Flight of the Phoenix. The pressure is immense, there is craziness all around, but somehow you hammer it out. I enjoy the challenge and fun of it.”

Moonlight and Magnolias, he confesses, “was really more of a celebration to correct the image of film’s golden age writers, directors, and producers than an indictment of Hollywood. Though Hecht is the voice in the play, the hero is the producer David Selznick. Too often today, the producer’s image is that of the sleazy, behind the scene guy, who rakes in the money. Selznick had everything on the line: his fortune, reputation, and his marriage. The producers of yesteryear are the ones upon which the industry was built. I’ve had the great fortune to work with some outstanding producers who aren’t afraid to make the tough decisions.”

So much of the humor in the play is driven by the tension between Fleming and Hecht. When asked if there was a director he had worked with in the fashion of Fleming, Hutchinson laughed again, “Actually, I did have a person in mind in the casting. Fleming is a lost director of the golden age, a man’s man, a real tough guy. I had the great opportunity to work with John Frankenheimer on several occasions. John was six-feet-five-inches tall and full of aggressive energy. To John, directing was a full contact sport. Once again, it was my intent to shed today’s image of the director who has a scraggly beard, a backwards baseball cap, and a shaggy green belt.”

Excerpt from “Moonlight and Magnolias is a Hoot “

by Richard Connema

The Chicago Sun-Times declared it "a hyperventilating slapstick comedy" and Howard Kissel of the Daily News said "Frankly, my dear, this is one funny play." The audience is taken into the inner sanctum of the famous producer's office in 1939 in this two-hour ten minute two-act production. We see a clash of titanic egos that is both hilarious and entertaining.

Moonlight and Magnolias is not all comedy. There is a serious side to this farce, which is also about the hidden prejudice of Jews in Los Angeles during 1939. Ben Hecht tells how Jews cannot live in certain neighborhoods like Bel Air or cannot join the Los Angeles Country Club.
Most of the fun is in the "hidden" stories that the three titans tell about Hollywood. Hecht has only read the first page of the massive novel. At the beginning of the play, he keeps repeating to Selznick, "I have never read the book." However, the producer is determined Hecht can come up with a new script since he is the best screenplay writer in Hollywood.

Read the full article here.

Ron Hutchinson

Excerpt from the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s Moonlight and Magnolias Study Guide

by David G. Anderson

It is not difficult to discover personal characteristics of great playwrights scattered liberally among the characters they create within the scope of their works. So it is with Ron Hutchinson. This autobiographical aspect is not as easily recognized in the specifics of his plays, but in the underlying themes that are unmistakably his life. Early in his career, there was a high concentration of what Hutchinson himself calls the “Irish Experience” viewed from outside Ireland. Having lived in Southern California for the past eighteen years, his horizons have broadened and so have his Hollywood enlightenments.

Hutchinson was born in 1947 near Lisburn, Northern Ireland. He moved with his family to Coventry where he attended school. After leaving school, he had varied experiences ranging from gutting fish, working as a clerk in the Department of Defense, and investigating claims for the British Department of Health.

Already an acclaimed British playwright, Hutchinson also has become a prolific screenwriter and “hired gun” script doctor. He has written literally dozens of stage plays which include The Irish Play, Flight, and his self-proclaimed best drama, Rat in the Skull. Among his screen plays are Emmy Award-winning Murders Among Us: The Simon Wiesenthal Story, The Burning Season, The Josephine Baker Story, Fatherland, The Tuskegee Airman, Traffic (nominated for three Emmys in 2004), The Ten Commandments, and Marco Polo.