Suscribe to Weekly Updates
* indicates required

View previous campaigns.

Latest Comments

    Get a grip, I bet the other little girl who...
  • ...
    Love the show - Daniel Mansfield
  • On target
    Everyone I have shared your editorial finds it really close...
  • Retired teacher
    Loved reading how such an outstanding citizen was able to...
  • Re: name correction
    Thank you for bringing the error to our attention, Lorianne,...
Uncivil War: "Moonlight & Magnolias," at the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre through April 13 PDF Print E-mail
Theatre - Reviews
Written by Mike Schulz   
Wednesday, 09 April 2008 02:02

Jason Platt and Don Faust in Moonlight & Magnolias It doesn't happen often, thank heavens. But I occasionally leave a theatrical production less disappointed than pissed off, as I'm occasionally forced into watching talented people dedicate their energies to a show that's clearly beneath them. Such is the case, sadly, with the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre's Moonlight & Magnolias, playwright Ron Hutchinson's comedy about the (imagined) farcical re-writing of the Gone with the Wind screenplay, and a work so confused and offensive that it all but completely nullifies the enthusiasm with which it's being produced.

Richmond Hill's latest is directed by Jennifer Kingry, who also serves as technical director, set designer, and (with Jean Melillo) co-costume designer, and if she'd been given a crack at re-writing the script, too, the results would no doubt have been far more entertaining. Moonlight & Magnolias opens with Gone with the Wind producer David O. Selznick (Jason Platt) begging dialogue whiz Ben Hecht (Don Faust) to re-tool his thus far unworkable dream project, and coercing director Victor Fleming (Chris White) into taking the reins from the recently fired George Cukor; Selznick's (or rather Hutchinson's) idea is that by locking the three of them in his office for five days, and feasting on a steady diet of bananas and peanuts, they'll eventually churn out a masterpiece.

Where to begin in describing how irredeemably awful this setup is? Forget, for a minute, that Selznick's plan makes the mogul appear almost criminally deranged, and that the seemingly level-headed Hecht and Fleming look like half-witted patsies for complying; Moonlight & Magnolias is a farce, so we go with it. But from minute one, Hutchinson displays such blatant disregard, and even contempt, for both Gone with the Wind and the artistic process itself that I detested the show long before it devolved into The Three Stooges Go to Atlanta. (This is clearly a minority opinion, as Thursday's opening-night audience, bless their hearts, gave the production a standing ovation.)

Jason Platt, Chris White, and Don Faust in Moonlight & Magnolias As presented here, Hecht has not only never read Gone with the Wind, but seems never to have heard of Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler (in 1939!), and consequently, much of the play is dedicated to Selznick and Fleming explaining or enacting the book's plot to the screenwriter, who rolls his eyes and makes snarky comments about the ludicrousness of it all. (Selznick agrees that it's swill, but keeps reminding Hecht that it's hugely popular swill.) Yet you don't have to be a fan of the source material - I haven't read it - to be put off by Hutchinson's hatefulness toward Margaret Mitchell's creation.

We're continually told of Gone with the Wind's convoluted plotting, its lousy dialogue, its melodramatic characters, its unsatisfying ending - Moonlight & Magnolias' playwright isn't merely derisive toward the work, but toward the millions of suckers who fell for it. (Hutchinson is also a Hollywood screenwriter, and those who co-scripted 1996's The Island of Dr. Moreau should not cast stones.) And how are we to take the notion that Selznick, Hecht, and Fleming - reduced, after five days trapped together, to sweaty, punchy wrecks - save this supposedly wretched material by condensing the Southern pulp into a more manageable form? What Hutchinson is doing here is really low; he's dismissive of Mitchell yet suggests that the film's eventual artistic and financial success stemmed directly from Mitchell, as it merely took a trio of sleep-deprived oafs to save the good stuff and toss out the rest. (Throw a monkey a banana and watch him type.)

Ryan-Mosher Ohr in Moonlight & Magnolias Space is running short, so let me just sketch out a few of the script's other irritants: the glaringly anachronistic dialogue ("Suck it up," "You must have mistaken me for someone who gives a crap"); the borderline sexism and racism - oftentimes in the same breath - of the Gone with the Wind "re-creations" (Butterfly McQueen should sue from the grave); the maudlin, unconvincing attempts at Real Emotion (Selznick and Hecht frequently interrupt the wackiness with didactic diatribes on the pressures of being a Jew in Hollywood).

No actors could make sense of these senseless proceedings, but as God as my witness, the cast gives it a good shot. Platt, who may be incapable of falseness on stage, attacks his role with ferocious focus and determination, Faust grows more enjoyable as Hecht grows more harried, and White, to his enormous credit, is believable as both a macho jerk - he rationalizes smacking young Judy Garland by saying he did it "just once" - and the whining mess that Hutchinson's plotting forces him to become. (The play's standout portrayal, though, is given by that divine comedienne Ryan Mosher-Ohr, mostly because she has the fewest number of humiliating routines; with her secretary given little to do besides deliver variations on "Yes, Mr. Selznick," the performer's gradually ruffled deadpan is blissfully funny.) Richmond Hill's production isn't without scattered laughs, yet when they do come it's despite the material, not because of it; Moonlight & Magnolias' actors are working overtime here, and unfortunately, they're stuck with a script that's nothing but Tara bull.


For tickets, call (309) 944-2244.

Comments (20)Add Comment
written by Jennifer Kingry, April 09, 2008
Ouch! My eye!
written by Scarlett O'Hara, April 10, 2008
Fiddle-dee-dee! What Schulz doesn't realize is that this show is fictional. Selznick actually did lock himself, Hecht, & Fleming in his office & when they emerged they had a finished script. What happened in that office is speculation. I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed the production & hope this review doesn't sway people from attending. 'Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn' about reviews.
written by Tyson Danner, April 11, 2008
I'd like to say that I don't pay too much attention to reviews. And that's usually true of shows I've seen. However, if I'm trying to decide whether to see a production, the reviews are really helpful. For better or for worse, the critics can let readers know subtly (and sometimes not so...) whether or not it's worth my time and money.

While it would've been nice to hear more about whether the actors themselves are worth seeing, it's very valuable to me to hear an honest opinion about what kind of enrichment I'm going to get from the theatre experience, or whether I'll walk out of the theatre wishing I'd seen something else.

I'd wager that there are a good many patrons that do the same...I've never believed that "all publicity is good publicity".
written by Jennifer Kingry, April 11, 2008
As Tyson writes, reviews can be helpful in determing where to spend one's entertainment dollar. Which is one reason why Mike's review has been distressing for me - it will, undoubtedly, keep many people away from this show and the opportunity to judge for themselves.

As the director, I clearly cannot present an unbiased view of the production. I have great respect for Mike and read his reviews each week with relish (maybe not so much this week!) He and I have communicated, amicably, about this review and, at the end of the day, we have to just agree to disagree.

However, I was sufficiently disturbed by his comments, (which, for me, seem to come from left field) that I googled the show's title and read 8-9 reviews of other productions, mostly community theater, going back to the original premiere in New York. And I was suprised (or maybe I should say reassured) to find that not a single review took this kind of stand on the script. A few found flaws, but most were overwhelmingly positive.

So...did we put together a poor production of the script? Again, I'm obviously biased, but, since Tyson asked (thank you for the opening), I will say a few words about the performers.

Jason Platt, who plays Selznick, does a phenomenal job. Mike might have mentioned that, aside from one scene change and the intermission, Platt's character is onstage the entire time, and usually talking! Like Selznick himself, Jason is a driving force - determined, desperate even, to wring a hit out of material others tell him can't possibly be turned into a successful film. Jason also turns on a dime from his Selznick persona to enact a variety of characters from GWTW, becoming coquettish or lovelorn as the need arises, before snapping back into his Selznick character. It is an outstanding performance by an extremely talented actor.

He is ably supported by Chris White and Don Faust, as the tough-guy action film director and wise-guy Chicago reporter-turned-script-doctor. Chris makes the journey from he-man to blubbering wreck, with many priceless comedy bits along the way. Don's Hecht is the most sarcastic member of the trio and gets off some great lines, but he also voices the script's social conscience. Ryan Mosher-Ohr, as Mike mentioned, does a superlative job in a small role.

As any contemporary reader of GWTW or viewer of the film knows, a racist attitude prevails in both that is cringeworthy for most people today. (It was probably cringeworthy for many people even in 1939.) To Hutchinson's credit, he does not attempt to sweep this issue under the rug, but calls it out into the open. It might have been easier to pen a play that simply treats a beloved film classic with kid gloves, but Hutchinson preferred to go for the larger view, warts and all.

The play veers from slapstick humor to serious social commentary. Does it always negotiate this course gracefully? That's for the audience to judge. The snappy dialogue is reminiscient of some of the great screwball comedies of the '30's (His Girl Friday comes to mind, which is not surprising, as it was co-authored by Hecht.)

There are lots of small touches, as we went to great effort to create a 1930's studio exec's office...on a community theater budget. But, the real reason to see the show is the performances. And, perhaps, the script, which many find alternately funny and thought-provoking. Is it masterpiece material? Nope. Is the production better than several shows I have gone to see where Mike wrote a far more generous review, only to discover I'd lost my $10-12 dollars on a really poor show? Um, yeah, in my completely prejudiced opinion, it is.

I have no wish to initiate any kind of blog argument with other readers, which was why, initially, I only responded with the short comment that I did (which also happens to be a quote from the play.) But it's also important for me to stand behind the script, my cast and the production. I've been actively involved in theater for 40 years and I not yet done a show that I was ashamed of. The standing ovation that occured at the very same performance Mike saw was strong approbation of the performances and the show.

Mike is a great critic and a friend. I always find his reviews to be insightful and well-written, and usually quite funny to read (hey, even I have to concede, the line about Dr. Moreauand not throwing stones made me laugh out loud!) And it is, indeed, the critic's job to inform readers what he thinks of a production. As I said, this is just one about which we just have to agree to disagree.

In future, though, when I next read a very strongly-opinionated review from him, I'm going to have to ask myself whether I shouldn't just go judge for myself. Sadly, I'm sure many people will not see
Moonlight & Magnolias who might have enjoyed it.
written by C Michaels, April 11, 2008
I'd wager that most readers parse a review to find out what the show is about; who is in it; and did those in attendance seem to enjoy it. I'm not sure how valuable one person's opinion of the quality of the script is in determining what MY enjoyment may be. Theater is a subjective art often infused with ego, so a great many opinions will differ on the merits of any given production. Mike, you and your colleagues in the QCA are insightful critics with obvious passion for theater. However, I think average readers, and our precious theatrical community, would be better served with a broader eye cast on the experience's of a variety of attendee's at any particular performance, good or bad. One person's opinion serves few. Reporting on the opinions of a few or more serves many.
written by Tyson Danner, April 11, 2008
Well said, Jennifer. I love that the Reader's website is a place where you're free to get than information out there!

C Michaels, I agree with you that it's helpful to know how the whole audience reacted. (In fact, Mike includes this line in his review: "This is clearly a minority opinion, as Thursday's opening-night audience, bless their hearts, gave the production a standing ovation.") Unfortunately we don't always see that kind of a disclaimer every time from every critic. I usually wind up asking friends who have seen a production: 1. What did you think? and 2. Did the audience like it? (or, was it a crowd-pleaser?) For me, at least, those answers don't often coincide.

I suppose that I pay more attention to Mike's reviews than to those of other critics because I've noticed that we tend to like and dislike the same things.
written by JaJay, April 12, 2008
I think it all depends on the reviewer. If you find yourself agreeing with Ebert more than Siskel then that's whose advise your more likely to follow. And my experience has been that Mike's and my opinion usually are in sync. So thanks Mike for saving me the gas money to drive to Geneseo. I'm glad Mike is there to warn us about the stinkers. And if I remember right there's been a number of them in Geneseo lately.
written by Scarlett O'Hara, April 12, 2008
Thanks Jajay, for your BRILLIANT assessment. Firstly, live theatre is different than movies. Ebert wouldn't know what to do with himself in a theatre. Secondly, I have been quite happy with the shows at Geneseo. The bottom line: if you don't appreciate the work the actors, the tech & the crew do, STAY HOME!! But don't complain that there is nothing to do in the Quad Cities.
written by Jennifer Kingry, April 12, 2008
Not to take issue with you, Jajay, but memory can be subjective. Mike hated this show, gave a middling-to-positive review to the last show, a glowing review of the November Christmas show, a strongly favorable review of our October show (in SPITE of it being a Neil Simon), a middling review for last August's show (another one of mine), a negative review for the July show, a glowing review for June, an darn-nearly-glowing for April 07, and a middling-to-negative for Feb. 07.

In general, 2006 was a standout year at RHP - we had several terrific shows and best attendance ever recorded. According to Mike's reviews, we had a couple of standout comedies - Perfect Wedding and Bad Year for Tomatoes - and a couple of strong dramas - Proof (directed by me) and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The two dramas, by the way, were named to a couple "Best of the Season" lists by local reviewers.

Bear in mind, RHP is a community theater. Its participants are all amateurs, pulled from as wide a section of the community as possible. Likewise, the shows aim for a wide audience. In any given season, there will be all kinds of material. And obviously, some will do better than others.

written by Molly, April 13, 2008
I enjoyed this show for a number of reasons. One was because I have worked with the actors & crew in the past. I had to come & show support for them. But the number one reason I enjoyed this was because it renewed my interest in Gone With the Wind. I had read the book & saw the movie in high school, & watched the Scarlett mini-series (without reading the book). Since then, Gone With the Wind has been sitting on my shelf. Now I will read it again & purchase the movie to have in my collection. And I probably will read Scarlett now. I think that if this play does that for people, it is a success regardless of ticket numbers.
written by Tyson Danner, April 14, 2008
I totally agree with Jajay (aside from his apparently faulty memory...though I must confess that mine is just as faulty, as I had the same impression of recent reviews of RHP. I'm thankful for the correction from Jennifer).

As a reader, I think you have to find the reviewer you agree with most often. It doesn't mean you ignore the other reviews, but you might weigh one review more highly than another when deciding whether or not to attend a production.

As for "Scarlett O'Hara", your defensive attitude betrays your allegiances, perhaps? Jajay didn't say that Ebert should review theatre, he was merely using it as a good example of when it's a good idea to ignore a review! As usual, those who won't back up their comments with their real name tend to be the snippiest of all. (Though I suppose that's one of the great freedoms of the internet!) I do agree with you when you say "don't complain that there is nothing to do". It drives me nuts when I hear people complaining of boredom - there's so much to do here! However, I'd suggest that if people didn't like this show, DON'T STAY HOME! Go back for RHP's next production. You'll see new material and probably mostly new actors. Unlike other entertainment venues, the theatre experience is new every time!
written by Scarlett O'Hara, April 14, 2008
I am sorry, Tyson. I was not meaning to be 'snippy.' I just really enjoyed Moonlight & Magnolias. Anything negative having to do with my baby (ie Gone With the Wind) gets my blood boiling.
written by Don Hazen, April 15, 2008
My experience as an actor in local theater
is still in its infancy,but I have had the
good fortune of being cast in several plays
in a short period of time. I have been on the receiving end of your criticisms.You
have been kind,and you have been harsh,but
you have always been fair,and I always look
forward to reading your reviews. But I couldn't disagree more with your assess-ment of RHPs' production of "Moonlight and Magnolias". Two things that you usually look for in a play,I notice,are pacing and
running time. This play hit the mark on each of those.It went by in a blazing blur and the actors spouted their lines "on the heels" of each other continuously.There wasn't a dull moment in the entire play.
I would also like to put something else into a proper perspective..Everyone involved with these local productions
have a purpose that is twofold.The first is to put together an entertaining show
that the audience will enjoy,and the second
is to have a good time doing it. It's a win-win situation. The bigger the audience,the more fun it's going to be for everyone in the theater:such is the intention. Much further down the list is
the income made from the shows.I have not once heard of a dollar amount any of our shows have brought in,it's always been about filling seats with an audience that wants to have a good time and to make the experience more fulfilling for everyone .
As I looked around and studied the audience
during "Moonlight and Magnolias",I saw everyone having a good time.This was the hardest working cast I have ever seen.
Jason Platt in the lead role,must have had
5,000 words of dialogue,and never missed a cue.I found myself anxious to hear what he was going to say next!Chris White and Don Faust,as his support,were also on their toes with an obviously gifted talent for physical comedy as well.Jennifer Kingry
deserves kudos for making all these things happen,seemingly,seamlessly,and PLEASE!!
faithful,loyal readers of Mikes' reviews,
pay attention to what he writes;he did state, that his opinion was a "minority opinion".

written by Just Me, April 15, 2008
I guess I also have to "chime in" on this whole "disagree with Mike". I disagree with Mike. I have said it. *whew* feel better.

I enjoyed the production very much. I found it funny, clever, and more of an homage to Gone With The Wind, than derisive. But that is my opinion, and I am entitled to that all on my own. Just as Mike is entitled to HIS opinion. That is the joy of free speech.

However, my question stems from the article he wrote about the play in the week previous. Mike clearly states that he has never seen Gone With The Wind in its entirety, and admits in his review that he has neve read the book either. This makes me quesiton the validity of his opinion. How does Mike KNOW that the material in the book ISN'T melodramatic swill? How does Mike know that there isn't lousy dialogue or a convoluted plot in either piece of work? I guess what I want to know, is: isn't Mike's review doing to the playwrite's words, what the playwrite (in Mike's opinion) did to Mitchell's?

This was a ferociously mean review for a show that didn't deserve it. I have seen WAY worse shows where the review has been OVERLY generous to the actors AND the script. I am sorry to those that missed this because of one review. normally, i agree with mike as well, but unfortunatly, i cannot agree in this case.

written by Too Cowardly to Give My Name, April 15, 2008
I took exception to everything Mike had to say this time (and it's not the first time!). And I agree with the person who said that if you haven't read or seen the material, you can't very well say that someone else is wrong about it! Much of Gone With the Wind IS melodrama. Some of it IS drivel. But we, it's fans, love it anyway, worts and all. And so, I suspect, did the playwright. The one line where he admits that he was in the minority because the audience, "bless their hearts", liked it. I thought, "How incredibly condescending! Isn't that what southern women say when they are about to insult you? 'Bless your heart.'" Did he mean to say that he was the only one SMART enough to see how bad it was?
You know, my mother always said that if you go with the idea that you're not going to have fun, you won't! We all know that Mike hates a farce. So I don't think he gives them a fair hearing. He goes believing he's going to hate it, and so he does. Never mind that the audiences loved it and the production and acting was extremely well done. It was a farce, and so has to be bad.
Most theatre goers go with the idea that they are going to be entertained, and so they are! Around here we are privileged to have many venues. Most of them operate on a shoestring and we can't afford to bad mouth any of them.
The better comments might have been to acknowledge that he doesn't like a farce, so his opinion disagreed with the audience who had a wonderful time.
written by C Michaels, April 15, 2008
It is wonderful that theatre is thriving in the QCA. My experience in the entertainment industry is geographically broad and this is the richest theatrical community I have ever seen. It seems though that we often 'eat our young' so to speak.

Kudos to those who go out and start new theatrical projects, rather than sit and stew about the opportunities not afforded them at the more traditional companies. However, the birth of the new groups doesn't have to come at the expense of the old.

We don't have to prop up My Verona, Prenzie, or Green Room by tearing down QMCG, Playcrafters or RHP. Nor do we have to defend the old guard by beating up on the new groups.

One should remember that the folks at the established theaters were also once idealistic 20-somethings who were going to change the 'stale' theater scene with ground-breaking stuff. In some instances the 'veterans' do perform what's become comfortable to us and our audiences. But, the new groups will too. They will find a groove and settle into it.

This is art. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The beholder is the audience. To survive we all need the audience.

Debate and discussion is good, but in our criticisms we should be mindful of the damage we do to our own theater community when through harsh critique or scathing reviews we discourage people from attending.

Good or bad, every play tells a story - relates someone's experience, and there is always something to learn from that. And all the theatre groups in the QCA have something to learn from each other. We can all benefit by exchanging scripts, ideas, actors, set pieces, resources, etc. And we'll only survive by doing so.

Most importantly, we need to remember that the only review determining whether we're giving our best that matters comes from ourselves, and the audience.

Cue 'Kumbaya.'
written by Too Cowardly to Give My Name, April 15, 2008
Amen, C Micheals!
written by schqc, April 15, 2008
As a long time actor I would have to say that I have loved mike's reviews and agreed with many of them. I have also disagreed with some of them.

What stuns me is the incredible overreactions to reviews. I have received a negative review and been in some bad shows. It happens.

However, I have nearly always found EVERY review to have truth in it. Good and bad. What I never understand is the fetishism of reviews by the casts. A bad review is simply a bad review as is a good. If your company cannot survive a poor review it is a poor company. A reviewer who is constantly positive is as useless as one who is constantly negative.

Why bother to read such a thing.

Then to get in a huff when a critic disagrees with a director?!!

A great review stands as a piece of art by itself (read Anthony Lane sometime in the New Yorker). A critic is doing something different than an artistic director or an actor.

Boosterism has its place with PR committees for various theaters. It may even have a place in a newspaper. However it has no place in a review...nor should it.

A reviewer must be honest. That is the ultimate test. He doesn't like the show. He's entitled. ESPECIALLY because he is a critic.
written by Jason Platt, April 16, 2008
As an actor in any performance I make it a point to, first and foremost, have fun in a production. If you're not having fun, then what's the point? And I had a blast working on Moonlight and Magnolias. There are three reasons my deciding on working on a show 1) the director 2) the script and 3) if the character that I have been cast as will be fun and challenging. I was able to check off all three of these with this production. And I love to tell stories. That's why I'm an illustrator. I admit, I did like the script, much to Mike's dismay. When reading that first time, back in December, I knew that it was a mixture of fact and fiction. But while going through it I was envisioning somewhat of a behind-the-scenes feature on a DVD. There was a certain energy that I could feel coming from it. And I liked it.

As a performer I take reviews with a grain of salt. They can be flattering or down right nasty. It can be hard if the reviewer picks apart your performance or leaves you out completely (which, at times, can be generous) Either way that particular critic has the right to their own opinion. Yes, I wish that Mike's review could have focused a bit more on the actual production. But I'm not Mike. Yes, I wished he liked the script more so he could have had more fun actually watching the show. But once more, I'm not Mike.

Reading Mike's review did have me nervous only because you do want people from the community to come and watch the show that you've spent so "much time, effort and money" on(a line from the show that fits all too well here). Especially when you honestly believe you have a good show. But that's the way it goes unfortunately.

I often get a "are you nuts" look on other's faces when I tell them that I could not stand watching "Moulin Rouge" But there was something about it I just couldn't stand. And regardless of the "are you nuts?" look, I kept my ground. I was still able to enjoy the look of it, and the performances too. But will I watch it again? Probably not. As in Mike's review, he didn't say he hated the production... but his dislike for the script made it hard for him to look past it.

Some scripts just rub people the wrong way. I can't stop that. But the mixed reviews for Moonlight and Magnolia's didn't stop me from being glad that I participated in the show. It was fun to do; I did like the script and I did find the role challenging. Check, Check and Check.

And for those who came to it and enjoyed it, thank you.

written by Local Theater Supporter, April 18, 2008
I've read the book, I've read the comments, and of course I've read the review. I also saw the show on its second weekend. Perhaps I saw a radically different show than Mr. Schulz, though I don't think I did. Perhaps it's just that not everyone sees a thing through the same glasses. I enjoyed the production. I laughed, often. It was billed as a comedy, so I don't suppose I was wrong to do so. I also appreciated the quality of the performances, and the attention to detail of the overall production. Having been on stage before, I recognized the amount of effort that must have gone into this work. These are the reasons why I was standing at the end of the second Saturday show, applauding the actors (as the opening night crowd apparently did also). In this case, I'm glad I didn't get a chance to read the review until after the show. I find that I often aree with many points when I read one of Mr Schulz's reviews. In this case, I found I agreed with almost none. I just don't understand the basis for the vitriol...

Write comment
smaller | bigger