Frankly, my dear, you shouldn’t miss
article and photos by Grant Weaver, GuidingStar.ca
Hard at work rehearsing: Martin Kalin as director Victor Fleming,
Andrew Horbatuik as screenwriter Ben Hecht and Ali Adatia as producer David O.
(Feb. 5/08) From February 11 to 14 at
Markham Theatre For Performing Arts, Markham Little Theatre takes us
behind closed doors in playwright Ron Hutchinson’s Moonlight &
Magnolias, an imaginative and humorous speculation about how the
final script for the movie Gone With The Wind was written.
Michele Browne pumps up the comic possibilities of a play that
also features hardnosed talk on some of the pressing social issues
of the day as well as pungent wrangling on the very
basic principles of movie making.
directs a cast of four talented actors who handle with aplomb the wide
range of emotions called up by this clever work. But, if that sounds a bit
heavy, remember that Markham Little Theatre seeks first and foremost
to entertain. There
will be lots of laughs along the way.
Hutchinson’s play come to be written? Well, it is a historical
fact that in 1939, shortly after beginning the filming of the
movie version of Gone With The Wind---the burning of Civil
War-era Atlanta had already been shot---producer David O. Selznick, unhappy
with the way the production was unfolding, fired his director,
scrapped the original screenplay, and suspended production for five
days. He called in a
new screenwriter Ben Hecht and brought in as new director Victor
Fleming, pulling him off the set of The Wizard Of Oz two weeks
before its completion.
The three of them were locked in a room for five days, living on
peanuts and bananas, while they hashed out a new screenplay. And, in fact, a new
screenplay was produced, and the shooting of the movie resumed with
that new script and with the new director. Gone With The Wind went on,
as we all know, to become a cinema classic.
went on behind closed doors for those five days? First of all, there was one
small problem: the new screenwriter, Ben Hecht, had not read the
novel. That was solved
by the producer and director re-enacting for him the scenes they
wanted in the movie.
Combine what is known with what came from the imagination of Ron
Hutchinson, and you have a play that captures the tension, the
dissension, and the comedy that this hothouse atmosphere no doubt
Browne, whose many on-stage performances have delighted Markham
Little Theatre audiences for over twenty-five years, takes on
another role that is equally familiar to her, that of director. Michele, most recently,
appeared in Waiting For The Parade last September and in the
leading role of Judith Bliss in Noel Coward’s Hay Fever this
Little Theatre is set to explore some new playwrights in its
upcoming 2009/2010 season and Moonlight & Magnolias initiates
an entry into some newer material that has the ability to entertain
but also to tackle issues in a style that has an edge to it.
it’s a great play,” Michele said.
“I think it’s a play that men will enjoy as much as women.”
are scenes of no-holds barred slapstick. There are others that take
on important questions of race and religious prejudice. Should the movie, for
example, include the scene in which Scarlet O’Hara beats the eleven
year-old black maid? On
top of that, an interesting debate ensues on the process of movie-making itself. To
screenwriter Ben Hecht’s assertion that “In the beginning was the
word”, Selznick counters that “In the beginning was the deal”. Victor Fleming, naturally,
maintains that the key player is the director, the one who calls
moments of angst and disagreement are kept enthralling and
entertaining by the high-energy performances that Michele has
elicited from her cast.
asked the boys to keep the energy up,” she says, “and they’re giving
me what I want.”
GuidingStar.ca attended MLT’s rehearsal this past Sunday (February
1), at their BackStage location on the grounds of Markham Museum,
and I can tell you that high energy was the order of the day.
role of Producer David O. Selznick is Ali Adatia, who appeared last
year in back-to-back MLT productions The Odd Couple (Female
Version), and Over The River And Through The Woods. He has also been getting
on with a budding film career.
Ali recently appeared in an episode of Forbidden Science on
The Movie Network and, in March, television viewers will see him in
a new ScotiaBank commercial.
a real workout in Moonlight & Magnolias. He is literally never
offstage and his character, but for a brief stress-induced coma on
stage, is constantly engaged in high-voltage, and often high
“Selznick is losing $50,000 a day, “ Ali explained. “So, it’s high stakes, high
pressure. The three characters have all got their own opinions, and
ideologies, and ideas about what’s going to work. But out of that also comes a
lot of humour.”
director of Gone With The Wind, Victor Fleming, is played by Martin
Kalin who is in his first production with Markham Little Theatre. In his stage career, Martin
has been playwright, actor and director. One of his one-act plays,
Circle Dance, was produced in 2001 at the New Ideas Festival at
the Alumni Theatre in Toronto.
Recently, Martin appeared as Owen Melville in Norm Foster’s
The Melville Boys performed at the Herongate Barn Dinner
Theatre in Pickering.
lot of fun to play because he’s very pompous, very headstrong,”
Martin told me.
“There’s God, and then there’s a movie director!”
makes it all the more hilarious when this same Victor Fleming is
drawn into the re-enactment of the beating of a servant---with
Fleming on the receiving end---and a birth, with Fleming the
mother-to-be and Selznick the midwife!
All this is for the benefit
of the new screenwriter who has not read the novel that is to be put
on the big screen.
Screenwriter Ben Hecht is played by Andrew Horbatuik. Andrew appeared in MLT’s
The Constant Wife in February 2007 and in Hay Fever this
Hecht,” Andrew explained,” is the conscience of the play. He’s a very idealistic
person who sees things in black and white.”
Despite their primary goal,
to produce a new screenplay for Gone With The Wind, Ben Hecht also
forces the players to deal with the issues of racial and religious
discrimination. The Jewish
question looms doubly large in the shadow of the coming war in
Completing the cast is Felicia Brennan in the role of Miss
Poppenghul, David O. Selznick’s assistant and secretary. Felicia, in addition to her
on-stage work, has a full plate this year as president of the board
of Markham Little Theatre.
The last time we spoke with Felicia, in February 2008, she was
in the director’s chair for The Odd Couple (Female Version).
other characters, Miss Poppenghul is not a historical figure but
a composite of several secretaries who had worked for Selznick. Her job is to see that
everything runs smoothly and, at the beginning of the play, she is
very on top of things.
As the pressures of the days mount, she begins to unravel.
2,” Felicia explained, “you can see the toll the past five days have
had on her. It’s fun to
play these two polar opposites.”
Meanwhile, in the spacious workshop, the building of the set is
Michele speaks enthusiastically about
this key component of the production. The set design crew located photos of
David O. Selznick seated at his desk in his office and, under Set Designer
Ross Liversage, are reproducing this setting as closely as they can. Michele’s husband, Producer
Terry Browne, succeeded in tracking down two telephones of the style of the era. And, lest anyone with a
peanut allergy think they should sit this one out, the crew has
spared no expense to ensure that only fake peanuts are used!
Props co-ordinators Judy Heffernan and
Judy Stelwagen have been hard at work putting together the many
objects that will be handled, and flung(!), during the performance
and costume designer Maria Cerone will have everyone dressed in
can I resist paraphrasing yet again Clark Gable’s famous line from Gone With
The Wind? Of MLT’s
production of Moonlight & Magnolias, running from Wednesday,
February 11 to Saturday, February 14, one can say with debonair
assurance: “Frankly, my dear, it is a wonderful play”.
to Moonlight & Magnolias can be purchased through the box office of Markham Theatre at
complete show details.
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