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The story behind the story of a classic film

Legendary movie producer David O. Selznick has just shut down production on the troubled set of his film Gone With The Wind – the script just isn’t working. Selznick sends a car for famed screenwriter Ben Hecht and pulls formidable director Victor Fleming from the set of The Wizard of Oz. With both men in his office, he locks the doors, closes the shades, and on a diet of bananas and peanuts, the three of them toil over five days to fashion a screenplay that will become the blueprint for one of the most successful films of all time.

Gord Cameron, Tim Bolton and Brian Otto rehearse a scene from the ETC production of Moonlight and Magnolias, which opens Feb. 11.
Gord Cameron, Tim Bolton and Brian Otto rehearse a scene from the ETC production of Moonlight and Magnolias, which opens Feb. 11.

Comedic interpretations of what happened behind those closed doors form the basis of Moonlight and Magnolias, the Elmira Theatre Company production that opens next week.

Set in 1939 Hollywood, Moonlight and Magnolias is based on true events leading up to the filming of Gone With The Wind. The play is filled with slapstick humour reminiscent of the Marx Brothers, while some of the funniest moments occur as the men try out possible dialogue by acting out the roles of Scarlett, Melanie and Prissy, as well as Ashley and Rhett.

Eventually, every detail is hashed out, from the shape of Tara’s plantation pillars to Scarlett O’Hara’s famous final words.

That Moonlight and Magnolias is based on actual events and involves some legendary Hollywood figures – albeit played up for comic effect – makes it all the more entertaining, suggests the director of this ETC offering.

“This is a play for anybody who’s a fan of movies, especially classic movies such as Gone With The Wind – it’s based on real situations and real people … although with obvious slapstick elements,” said Sue Jennings.

While the play does not require the audience to have seen the movie, those who’ve enjoyed Gone With The Wind will catch some of the little insights about the story.

For Jennings, the play has increased her appreciation for the film, prompting her to do even more research.

“It was really interesting learning more about these guys and their contributions to the movies over the years.”

Selznick, Hecht and Fleming (portrayed by Brian Otto, Tom Bolton and Gord Cameron) were all influential characters in Hollywood’s golden age. Reflecting those real men in a play that focuses on comic timing and fast-paced banter is no easy task.

Although a comedy, there is also a serious side to the farce, which touches on racism, politics and anti-Semitism in late-1930s Los Angeles. The play does contain some mature language – this was not a time of political correctness – but is suitable for teenagers and above.

“This has been the toughest play I’ve directed,” she said. “It’s three guys carrying the play for two hours.”

Adding to the workload is the fact that opening night is also the evening when the play will be judged as ETC’s entry in the Western Ontario Drama League festival for 2010. Following the WODL festival in Owen Sound next month, five plays will compete for a spot in the Theatre Ontario festival in May.

The ETC production of Moonlight and Magnolias runs Feb. 11-14 and Feb. 18-20. All shows are at 8 p.m., except for Sunday’s matinee (Feb. 14) at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $18, available through the Centre In The Square box office by calling 519-578-1570 or online at www.centre-square.com. A limited supply of tickets will be available at the door. All performances are at 76 Howard Ave. in Elmira.

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