Review: ‘Moonlight & Magnolias’ at the Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre

What better way to start the new year, but with the delightful comedy Moonlight & Magnolias about the frustratingly funny writing process for the screenplay of the American classic Gone With The Wind. Spotlighters Theatre does a magnificent job bringing this story to life.

Thom Eric Sinn (David O. Selznick) and Rachel Roth (Miss Poppenghul). Photo by Spotlighters Theatre/Chris Aldridge, CMAldridgePhotography.
Thom Eric Sinn (David O. Selznick) and Rachel Roth (Miss Poppenghul). Photo by Spotlighters Theatre/Chris Aldridge, CMAldridgePhotography.

Not only is this a brilliantly written comedy taken from real circumstances, but it also gives us a look into the late 1930’s anti-Semitism fueled by the Nazis in Germany and Jews in the Hollywood film industry.

The play takes place in Hollywood, 1939. Semi-independent mogul David O. Selznick has just shut down production on the most eagerly anticipated movie in history – his mega budget version of Margaret Mitchell’s bestselling novel Gone With The Wind, scrapping the original script and sacking the director in the progress. Determined to produce a rewrite in five days, he engages the reluctant services of ace script doctor Ben Hecht, possibly the only person in America who has not read the novel, and the movie’s new director Victor Fleming, poached straight from the set of The Wizard of Oz, where he had been squabbling with the Munchkins and coming to blows with Judy Garland. His reputation on the line, and with nothing but a stockpile of peanuts and bananas to sustain them, Selznick locks himself in his office with his two collaborators, and a marathon creative session begins.

As you enter the house the music of the late 1930s is playing setting the mood for the evening  Once seated, you get the feeling that you have stepped back in time to the old Hollywood of the late 30s. The deep rich colors of the Selznick’s office are adorned with period furnishings, pictures of old Hollywood, old manual typewriter, period telephones, desks, window with beautifully rich brocade curtains, old radio, fan and an Oriental rug as the centerpiece of the stage. Tony Colavito and Michael Byrne Zemarel designed and constructed the perfect set for this wonderful piece of theater.

Bringing these rich colors to life was Al Ramer’s light design. The lighting choices truly complimented the set.

Suzanne Pratt’s costumes were a perfect touch, adding another dimension to this incredible collaborative effort. From the men’s suits to Selznick’s secretary’s dress and accessories, nothing was missed.

Bravo to Larry Malkus’ fight choreography. It was truly inspired. The somewhat slapstick fight/slapping scene stole the night. It was clearly complicated, but looked effortless.

Director Michael Byrne Zemarel moved his actors seamlessly throughout the space, creating some wonderful stage pictures. His casting was impeccable as well. All four of his actors had incredible chemistry, and this is an invaluable skill for a director to recognize this in the casting a show. In a word, simply brilliant direction.

The cast consisted of four amazing actors, Thom Eric Sinn as David O. Selznick the studio mogul, David Shoemaker as Ben Hecht the screenwriter, Tony Colavito as Victor Fleming the director, and Rachel Roth as Miss Poppenghul Selznick’s dutiful secretary.

Fueled by bananas and peanuts, the three men embark on a marathon five days together getting the proper screenplay written for the movie. As each day passes, the three men grow increasingly tired and crazier by the minute. All three men gave outstanding performances never missing a nuance crucial to their characters.

It’s hard to pick just one scene to highlight their amazing performances.  I must admit that the reenactment of Melanie’s birthing scene from Gone With The Wind was classically funny with Selznick and Fleming acting out the parts for the benefit of screenwriter Hecht as he looks on for inspiration. When Hecht becomes offended that he has to write the slapping of Prissy by Scarlett O’Hara into the script, Hecht protests because he finds the scene racially offensive. Selznick tries to convince him that it is necessary because he wants to stay true to Mitchell’s book. In doing so a slapping scene worthy of The Three Stooges occurs. This scene is priceless.

The cast of 'Moonlight & Magnolias.' Photo by Spotlighters Theatre/Chris Aldridge, CMAldridgePhotography.
The cast of ‘Moonlight & Magnolias.’ Photo by Spotlighters Theatre/Chris Aldridge, CMAldridgePhotography.

Last, must most certainly not least, is Rachel Roth (Miss Poppenghul) who rounds out this outstanding cast as the only female character in the play.  Ms. Roth matches the energy of the men and then some. She is perfect in her role as Selznick’s highly competent and obedient secretary. Her charming and repetitive “Yes, Mr. Selznick” was captivatingly wonderful and her facial expressions matched the chaos she was observing.

The only thing I can say is: run don’t walk to see this remarkable piece of theater. If you miss it, you will miss something quite extraordinary. Frankly, my dears, you should give a damn and buy some tickets now!

Running Time: Two hours and 10 minutes, with one intermission.


Moonlight & Magnolias plays through January 31, 2016, at the Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre – 817 Saint Paul Street, in Baltimore, MD. Tickets can be purchased online.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1555.gif

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Ilene Chalmers
Ilene has been an avid theater goer, performer and director for more than 40 years. Theater is Ilene’s first love and always has been from a very young age. She graduated with a B.A. degree in theater from the University of Maryland. In the early 1980s, she was a restaurant and theater reviewer for The Gaithersburg Gazette. Starting in the 1990s into the 2000s, Ilene was an English and Drama teacher in both Montgomery County Public Schools and The Harbour School in Annapolis. Ilene resides in Elkridge with fellow actor and husband David and their Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Molly. Her proudest productions of late are her four wonderful grandchildren. She is extremely proud to be a member of DCMetroTheaterArts staff of writers.


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