Gone With the Wind occupies a strange place in America's cultural consciousness. It's one of the most beloved films of all time, and yet its depictions of African-American stereotypes and post-Civil War race relations make it one of the most controversial. Moonlight and Magnolias, a farcical psychodrama at Theatre Memphis, goes behind the scenes to tell the strange and stressful story of how the screenplay was written and also to explain the contradictory relationship we have with a film that ennobles the slave-based culture of the Old South.
New York critics weren't kind to Moonlight and Magnolias when it opened in 2006. Writing for The New York Times, Charles Isherwood described Ron Hutchinson's comedy as a "shrill, silly, labored attempt to illicit the comic possibilities of a backstage drama."
Isherwood had a point. The script is profoundly silly, and it's difficult to believe some of the more implausible events. But just beneath the silliness, there are some interesting dynamics at play, and Hutchinson effectively transforms Hollywood's biggest stereotypes — the egomaniacal producer, the swaggering director, and the effete writer — into three hookers with hearts of gold.
Hutchinson also uses the homophobia and anti-Semitism that was prevalent in the 1930s as a funhouse mirror reflecting Gone With the Wind's well-known cultural insensitivities. Hutchinson subtly and cleverly suggests that as an artifact from Hollywood's golden age, Gone With the Wind may be a little more savvy and complex than its critics are willing to allow.
Moonlight and Magnolias is itself a story of forced captivity, though in this case the laborers are extremely well-paid. Super-producer David O. Selznick (Jerry Chipman) locks screenwriter Ben Hecht (Tony Isbell) and director Victor Fleming (Barclay Roberts) in a room for five days with nothing to eat but bananas and peanuts, forcing them to hammer out a working script. There's one major problem, though. Hecht has never read the source material, so Selznick and Fleming act it out for him, playing all the roles.
Shakespeare this isn't. It's not even Gone With the Wind. But it's not supposed to be, either. It's a nostalgic piece of theatrical candy for fans of a certifiable classic. And for critics willing to give this squawking comedy a second glance, it may provide at least a little food for thought.
Through April 11th
You Should Be So Lucky may not deliver the laughs of Vampire Lesbians of Sodom or Psycho Beach Party, but the wicked, even-keeled comedy, at TheatreWorks, may be playwright/drag-queen Charles Busch's best overall effort. It's the Cinderella-inspired story of Christopher, a gay loner electrologist who sees ghosts and accidentally kills very rich women right after they write him into their wills. Why it hasn't been developed as a film by some aspiring John Waters wannabe is a mystery well worth cracking.
The Emerald Theatre Company's take on Lucky isn't everything it could be, but that's not necessarily bad news. The staging is almost tragically lackadaisical, and the actors are an uneven mix of talent and type. That dulls the play's edge a bit but can't prevent its dark charms from shining through.
Savannah Bearden stands out as Polly, Christopher's actress sister who is equal parts Tallulah Bankhead and Hedda Gabler. Stephanie Norwood gives a winning performance as Mrs. Rosenberg, the play's big-hearted Jewish mother from hell, and Gina Garrone is ice-cold as the money-hungry Lenore. The boys in the show are less impressive, but they get the job done. As Christopher, Jamie Hale is so genuine and likable it makes up for an otherwise monochromatic performance.
Sunday's matinee performance of You Should Be So Lucky felt more like a dress rehearsal than a show, but the cast didn't have much of an audience to feed them laughs, and in this kind of comedy that can make a real difference. With luck and a decent crowd, this show might be ready to open before it closes yet!
Through April 12th