BWW Reviews: Public Theatre Ends Season with Slapstick Comedy
Lewiston's Public Theatre ended its 2013-2014 season with Ron Hutchinson's slapstick sendup about the script writing of Gone with the Wind, Moonlight and Magnolias. Premiered in 2004, the play imagines the tense week in which the legendary producer, David O. Selznick, effectively kidnaps his new writer, newsman Ben Hecht, and director, Victor Fleming, demanding that the trio rewrite and rescue his floundering epic picture. The ensuing antics in this broad and boisterous comedy are wild and frenzied - almost a Three Stooges routine with barely a moment to catch a breath.
The premise has potential, and there are a few genuinely witty moments, but the problem is that Hutchinson's play is relentless and shrill. It rarely, if ever, allows the audience a reflective instant to consider the issues at stake, though Hecht's character does raise them: Hollywood's artistic conscience, the blight of slavery and discrimination, and the sometimes crass business of art. The exchanges between Hecht and Selznick touch on these concerns, but their debate is so strident and swallowed up by their shtick that the audience gives up on listening.
Given these obstacles, the Public Theatre does its utmost to make the production fly. Janet Mitchko directs the fearless quartet of actors with a breathless abandon and lightening pace, inventing an exhaustive (and exhausting) repertoire of physical gags.
Mike Anthony plays Ben Hecht with a combination of manic energy and jaded irony, but his take on the role that has some of the best lines is a little too one-note to elicit much sympathy. Peter Simon Hilton goes for camp in his portrayal of Victor Fleming and creates moments of genuine good fun in his impersonations of Prissy. Only David Davalos as Selznick manages to find some dimensional and sympathetic accents in his character, and this goes a long way to humanizing his and his colleagues' dilemma. Cheryl Reynolds rounds out the cast with an appropriately mousy Miss Poppenghul.
The production is attractive and technically polished with Jennifer B. Madigan's well-appointed office set which gets trashed by the final curtain, and Kathleen B. Brown's period costumes. These are complemented by Bart Garvey's subtle lighting and witty effects which conjure up those of the famous movie. Larry French provides a well-balanced sound design with clever radio-like special effects.
Judging from the warm applause and peals of laughter which greeted the performers at curtain call, most of the audience heartily enjoyed this over the top farce far more than I did. This, perhaps, explains the Public Theatre's uninterrupted programming of comedies, a policy which will continue into next season. While most of these offerings have dramatic merit and have been ably mounted, one might wish for a little more variety and range in genre and style in the future.
Photos Courtesy: The Public Theatre
The Public Theatre, 11 Maple Street, Lewiston, ME, Christopher Schario, Executive & Artistic Director 207-782-3200 www.thepublictheatre.org