Reston Community Players Moonlight and MagnoliasBy Bob Ashby • May 3rd, 2011 • Category: Reviews
Reston Community Players
Reston Community Center, Reston, VA
Through May 14th
2:05, with one intermission
$18/$15 Seniors and Students
Reviewed April 30th, 2011
When at the top of their game, the first-rate community theaters in the Washington area produce shows the quality of which exceeds that of many of the area’s professional troupes. So it is with the Reston Community Players’ Moonlight and Magnolias, Ron Hutchinson’s comedy of histrionics and sleep deprivation. The play imagines a five-day marathon screenplay rewrite session for Gone with the Wind, and Hutchinson’s script manages to be not only mercifully shorter but also far more enjoyable than the tedious, bloated romantic pageant of the movie.
Each of the show’s four actors, equally adept at verbal and physical comedy, creates a distinct, very funny character. Andy Izquierdo, as producer David O. Selznick, may set local theater records both for the number of gestures per minute (all very crisp) and the longest solo freeze (maintained to perfection). His Selznick is a creature of over-the-top, non-stop volume and intensity, and his camp impersonation of Scarlett O’Hara would do credit to the most proficient of drag queens.
As Victor Fleming, the shambling, macho director brought in to film the as-yet uncompleted screenplay, Michael Clendenin adds to the production’s highlight reel by hilariously giving birth as Melanie and fighting a losing battle with a banana.
In counterpoint to Fleming, screenwriter Ben Hecht, played by Chuck Dluhy, tries to bring a smidgen of social consciousness to the proceedings, debating Hollywood’s anti-Semitism with Selznick and objecting to GWTW’s blatant racism.* Dluhy portrays admirably the disbelief of a writer confronting the absurdities of a novel he has never read.
The fourth role, considerably smaller than the others, is Miss Poppenguhl, Selznick’s much put-upon secretary. As played by Lauren Kiesling, she progresses nicely from unflappable to unhinged as the evening proceeds.
Kudos to director Sue Pinkman for creating a smoothly-running ensemble among the actors, as well as for effectively blocking the physical comedy set pieces, most prominently a prolonged sequence that can only be called literal slapstick. This production moves, and the pace never flags.
One of the most important things that distinguishes a top-of-the line community theater company from a lower-level group is the depth and quality of its technical staff. Reston is a prime example of this phenomenon. The set is a beautifully realized movie mogul’s office, the design and cuing of the lights are flawless and subtle (there is a particularly nice moment suggesting the flames of the movie’s burning of Atlanta sequence), and the costumes fit the period and characters perfectly. Bananas and peanuts have featured billing in Moonlight and Magnolias, and the production successfully meets the food props challenge. During intermission, indeed, some audience members could not resist munching peanuts left on stage at the end of Act 1.
My only quibble with the production concerns its final sequence, a sort of Reduced Shakespeare Company-style abridgement of the plot of GWTW. It was very funny, well executed by the cast, and lovely technically, but it had the feel of a tacked-on coda. Better in terms of the structure of the play to have ended with Selznick reclining, feet on desk, beginning to appreciate his achievement.
* The racist roots of GWTW are deep. Thomas Dixon, author of The Clansman, which was the basis for D.W. Griffith’s epic Birth of a Nation (in which the Ku Klux Klan are the good guys), was Margaret Mitchell’s literary idol and model. Indeed, Dixon famously wrote Mitchell a fan letter congratulating her for her success with GWTW.
Laughter is the best medicine…Laughter is the closet thing to the Grace of God…Laughter is the spark of the soul…Laughter is the shortest distance between two people…Nothing shows a man’s character more than what he laughs at…The most important aspect of comedy is its ambiguity. While directing this play, we all received two gifts: first, the gift of laughter, and even more revelatory, the history behind the Herculean effort of David O. Selznick’s legacy, Gone with the Wind. Selznick was not a tortured soul like Van Gogh, or a giant of literature like Tolstoy, or a Shakespearean legend like Olivier, but at the end of the day – not so different: he pursued his dreams with an artist’s passion and creative drive that is surely evident in his body of work (and without the benefit of computer-generated graphics)! Comedy is tricky business, and you can’t have comedy without drama…so “buckle up”…you are in for an amazing evening! Oh, and one more thing…if you never watched Gone with the Wind…or haven’t seen it in a long time…do it NOW!…after tonight, I guarantee, you’ll see it in a slightly different light.
Photos provided by the Reston Community Players.
- David O. Selznick: Andy Izquierdo
- Ben Hecht: Chuck Dluhy
- Miss Poppenguhl: Lauren Palmer Kiesling
- Victor Fleming: Michael Clendenin
- Security Guard: Rich Claar
- Nunnally Johnson: Rich Claar
- Martin Quigley: Andrew JM Regiec
- Leland Hayward: Buzz Gibson
- Producer, Director: Sue Pinkman
- Stage Manager: Laura Baughman
- Asst. Stage Manager Daryl Miles
- Running Crew Chief: Sara Birkhead
- Set Design: Maggie Modig
- Set Construction: Tom Geuting, Dave Johnson, Tim Hinton, larry Sadler
- Set Painting: Maggie Modig, Barbara Swart, Jill Tunnick
- Silhouette Design & Construction: Skip Larson and Cathy Rieder
- Set Decorations/Set Dressing: Bea & Jerry Morse
- Furniture Upholstery and Restoration: Bea Morse
- Properties Acquisition: Eileen Mullee, Cyndi Webb
- Light Design: Adam Konowe
- Master Electrictian: Ian Claar
- Sound Design: William Chrapcynski
- Costume Design: Farrell Ann M. Hartigan
- Wardrobe Mistress: Charlotte Marson
- Makeup & Hair Design: Sue Pinkman
- Combat Choreography: Karen Schlumpf and Brian Farrell
- Running Crew: Jason Willet, Rich Bird, Rich Claar, Thomas Huntley, Hannah Rohlfs, Phillip Archey, Leslie Tanner, Crystal Jones
- Playbill: Ginger Kohles/OneShoeOffDesign.com
Disclaimer: Reston Community Players provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review. RCP also purchased advertising on the ShowBizRadio.net web site, which did not influence this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/6524.
Bob Ashby has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.