Moonlight and Magnolias 

"Moonlight and Magnolias
Howard, Howard and Fine Productions
Theatre on the Square
Directed by Rockland Brooks Mers
Through July 30

Anytime there are a bevy of peanuts thrown into the audience and the stage is in a shambles by the show’s end, you know you have seen a good piece of theater. Such is the case with Moonlight and Magnolias, presented by Howard, Howard and Fine Productions as an Actors Equity project.

It is about the five days spent creating a final screenplay for the movie Gone with the Wind. Producer David O. Selznick (Daniel Scharbrough) locks himself, screenwriter Ben Hecht (Tom Beeler) and director Victor Fleming (Stephen Hunt) in his office for a marathon writing session while the production of Gone with the Wind lies dormant. He needs a new screenplay, and if it takes banana gnawing, burst blood vessels and flying peanuts to get it, that is what he is willing to endure. What we witness is the re-creation of various scenes from Gone with the Wind (acted out between Scharbrough and Hunt) and the breakdown and dishevelment of the three men as five days of little food and no sleep play havoc with their states of mind.

Scharbrough as Selznick is the obsessed one of the group, who, even in his catatonic stupor, remains single-minded about his goal: a movie that will cap all others. Hunt as Fleming, on the other hand, just wants the screenplay completed, and his character takes the worst beating in the cloistered environment — and therefore has the funniest transformation. Beeler’s Hecht keeps it cool most of the time, with his own set of ideals: Being on the brink of World War II, and a Jew himself, his politics keep him at odds with Scharbrough.

The three men do a bang-up (sometimes literally) job with the show, though the script can, especially in the first act, get repetitive and plodding. But, there are many laughs to be had as well, which makes sitting through a few slow sequences worthwhile.

A rotating roster of women play the put-upon secretary Miss Poppenguhl; opening night it was Kristen Lennox, who was just fine.

Director Rockland Brooks Mers ushers the cast through the bumpy parts and plays up the comedy of Moonlight and Magnolias. Laugh-out-loud physical comedy is hard to pull off, but this show has lots of it, done well.

Moonlight and Magnolias continues through July 30 on Theatre on the Square’s second stage, 627 Massachusetts Ave. Admission is by donation. For reservations, call 317-685-TOTS.

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