Studio-era Hollywood was being debunked on Broadway even while it was being mythicized; the debunkings themselves, by making the place seem wacky and extravagant, unwittingly heightened the myth. Ron Hutchinson’s Moonlight and Magnolias takes that myth at face value, but employs strategies that come from its debunker. Desperate for a rewrite of Gone With the Wind‘s wordy Sidney Howard screenplay, producer David O. Selznick (Douglas Sills) gathers super script doctor Ben Hecht (Matthew Arkin) and swaggering director Victor Fleming (David Rasche) in his office for a nightmare week of nonstop reworking, with no access to the outside world and only coffee, bananas, and peanuts to live on, supplied by his increasingly rattled secretary (a hilarious performance by Margo Skinner).
Hutchinson’s version probably has nothing to do with what really went on (which was mostly Hecht editing down Howard’s draft), but along the way he provides some sharp gibes, some glimpses of the genuine passion for film that fueled Hollywood’s great years, and extensive opportunities for the increasingly loony shenanigans of the cast under Lynne Meadow’s direction. As the floor sprouts ever higher piles of crumpled script pages, with the three increasingly crazed alpha males sniping at each other as Selznick and Fleming act out the scenes for Hecht, who loathes everything about the project, the insanity generates enough laughs to take the edge off the schematism in Hutchinson’s view of how film business was conducted. Arkin is a touch meek for the abrasive Hecht, but Rasche’s comic cloddishness and Sills’s dashing, darkly hyper-energized insistence amply make up any shortfall.