Frankly, my dear, you will give a damn:
Review by independent reviewer Michael H. Kaffrey
In today’s world of reality TV, Tweets, and status updates, we have more access to “behind the scenes” moments than ever before. Having the capability to access media from the palm of our hand anywhere in the world fuels our desire to know the inside scoop on anything and everything. Moonlight and Magnolias, by Ron Hutchinson, gives us exactly that, taking a wonderful glimpse into just what it might have been like to create the screenplay for the movie version of Gone with the Wind.
The play’s premise is a simple one. Legendary Hollywood producer David O. Selznick, played exemplary by St. Croix Off Broadway newcomer Paul Schoenack, sequesters big-time director Victor Fleming (Jason Decheine), also known as the iconic director of The Wizard of Oz, and the talented writer Ben Hecht (Eric Douglas) in his office for five straight days, with the daunting task of turning Margaret Mitchell’s 1,037 page Pulitzer Prize winning book into the screenplay for the 238 minute classic film. Not allowed to leave the room for any reason and eating only creative brain foods (bananas and peanuts), the three embark on a five day journey and a gradual decent into delirium and near insanity. As is often the case, there is a fine line between insanity and genius. And in the end the three Hollywood hot-shots succeed in their task having penned the script we’ve known and loved for decades.
Though in reality Selznick was the youngest of the three locked in the room, director James Zimmerman’s choice to cast the more mature Paul Schoenack in the role was, in itself, genius. Though I have no clue what Selznick actually looked or sounded like in real life, Schoenack’s portrayal of the legendary producer is top-notch. Witty and wild, yet refined in his performance style, he truly brings the character and the story to life.
Similarly, veteran St. Croix Off Broadway actor Jason Decheine shines in the role of Victor Fleming. Subtle and smooth, yet powerful in his delivery from his very first line, Decheine demonstrates the true mastery of his craft ever so cleverly in the delicate decent into madness as the hours tick by. “People go to the movies because real life stinks,” he asserts as Fleming. Whether or not life is that bad, Decheine is the perfect example of why we go to the theatre.
The most pleasant surprise of the show was the return of Eric Douglas as writer Ben Hecht. Last seen at the dinner theatre over two years ago (in the significantly smaller role of Reverend David in The Foreigner), Douglas returns to round out the comedic male trio with finesse. His stylized cynicism and fast-paced thought process is the perfect complement to Decheine and Schoenack.
Even with the three incredibly strong male performances, the show would not be the success that it is without the Broadway-caliber performance of Fredrice Nord, as Miss Poppenghul, Selznick’s personal secretary. Though her appearances on stage are minimal and 95% of her lines consist of only “Yes, Mr. Selznick,” Nord’s every movement and vocal inflection bring pure and utter joy to every audience member in the house.
Surrounding the strong talent on stage is the very stage itself. Having now seen at least a dozen shows at St. Croix Off Broadway Dinner Theatre, this set may just be the most amazing yet. It is certainly the most beautiful. It is difficult even to view the stage as a set because it appears so real. The seamlessly curved walls adorned in warm, wrought-iron leaf wrapped wall sconces, recessed ceiling lights and subtle, yet elegant earth-tones complete with maroon accents that match the carpeting in the theatre make it nearly impossible to decipher where the stage ends and the audience begins. Master set builder Wayne Peterson and the multi-talented director and scenic designer Jim Zimmerman have truly outdone themselves. Every color and every detail envelop the audience as we literally feel like a fly on the wall locked in the office watching the action.
Put it all together and whether the actors are flinging creative ideas, sarcastic retorts, or peanuts and bananas at each other, the physical and psychological transition crescendos effortlessly and resolves in perfect harmony. “My only responsibility is to make the best movie I can,” boasts Selznick fittingly, as in this writer’s opinion, they have truly staged the best play they could. Frankly, my dear, you will give a damn.
Moonlight and Magnolias at St. Croix Off Broadway Dinner Theatre located at the Hudson House Grand Hotel in Hudson, WI runs Fridays and Saturday evenings through October 26. A $56 price tag includes dinner; coffee, pop, tea, or milk; show; tip; and tax, and will send you home smiling. There is also a $42 noon lunch matinee on Saturday October 27. Get your tickets by calling 715-386-2394 ext. 333 or order them online at stcroixoffbroadway.com.
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St. Croix Off Broadway Dinner Theatre
1616 Crest View Drive, Hudson, WI 54016 Box Office: (715)386.2394 ext. 332
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