Theatre of Western Springs stages ‘Moonlight and Magnolias’
A scene from “Moonlight and Magnolias,” about the chaos behind the making of the 1939 film,“Gone with the Wind,” features (from left) Jonathan Kraft, of Indian Head Park, Harry Hultgren, of La Grange, and Tim Feeney, of Downers Grove, at Theatre of Wester
‘Moonlight and Magnolias’
at Theatre of Western Springs, 4374 Hampton Ave., Western Springs, Sept. 6-16. $18 to $20. Performance schedule: Sept. 6, 7, 8, 13, 14 at 8 p.m.; Sept. 9 at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m.; Sept. 15, 2:30 and 8 p.m.; and Sept. 16 at 2:30 p.m. (708) 246-3380 or www.theatrewesternsprings.com
Updated: August 29, 2012 2:42PM
The Theatre of Western Springs is poised to make audiences laugh with “Moonlight and Magnolias,” a raucous comedy that will open the company’s 84th season Sept. 6.
Written in 2004 by Ron Hutchinson, the play takes its cue from events surrounding Hollywood producer David O. Selznick’s 1939 production of the movie version of “Gone With the Wind,” which was adapted from Margaret Mitchell’s popular epic novel.
“I usually don’t laugh out loud when I read a play, but I did at this one. It’s a comedy of emotional depth and passion,” said Rick Snyder, a veteran actor-director who joined Theatre of Western Springs in February as artistic director and who will pilot the show.
Snyder added that “the parts that stay with me the most” are the play’s passion, arguments and insights into making movies. “All of this grounds the comedy and gives it credibility,” he said.
Weeks into the film, a dissatisfied Selznick suspends production, fires the director and screen writers and brings in substitutes Victor Fleming as director and Chicago journalist Ben Hecht as script doctor.
Locked in a room with Selznick, the two replacements are given a mandate to create a usable new screenplay out of the novel’s 1,000-odd pages and to do so with a deadline of just five days.
Audiences will take to the characters in “Moonlight and Magnolias,” said Snyder. “Despite their dislikes, jealousies and differing views, the characters share a mutual respect,” he said. “One realizes they’re not in it for the money alone, but because they truly love movie making.”
Several lines attributed to Selznick strike at the core of what motivates the team as it struggles to keep everything together. Snyder cites the movie producer’s pointed question on immortality: “Do you have any other way to live forever [than through film]?”
Selznick also stressed how “if there’s one mistake, one thing out of place in a movie, the illusion is shattered.” Snyder said that’s true of theater as well. “This is where we want to be meticulous. The audience may not be professional filmmakers or actors, but they are very sharp and know when something’s doesn’t quite ring true or look right,” Snyder added.
Snyder, who has been an ensemble member at Steppenwolf Theater for some 30 years and has appeared on many major Chicago stages, lauded his cast. “You could tell in rehearsal that they are a solid group and work well together,” he said.
Harry Hultgren does a “great job” as Selznick, who is constantly pushing the team to press on with their work, Snyder said. He is joined by Jonathan Kraft as Fleming and Tim Feeney as Hecht. Bridget Bittman is Miss Poppenghul, the secretary.
The role of Selznick is filled with challenges, said Hultgren. “This character is fatigued and under intense pressure,” he said. “He goes from this constant ‘let’s go, get this done’ to ‘I need to get this done because I can’t stand stopping to think of the failure and humiliation (of getting it wrong)’.”
Hultgren traces his association with the Theatre of Western Springs back 24 years and describes it as a “family affair.” His wife Ann Marie has performed with the company and appears in its upcoming “The Women of Lockerbie” (Sept. 27 - Oct. 7), and daughter Elyse also has performed on its stage.
Asked how important it is from an audience member’s perspective to be familiar with “Gone With the Wind,” Snyder said, “I think you’d certainly enjoy it without being well versed in it. It lives on its own. But those familiar with the movie and some of the history might have a little more fun – though it’s not necessary to enjoy this play.”