By Pat Launer
‘So Here’s the Thing’: It’s ‘Confession’ time:
Gay and straight, absurd and sublime.
Musical, ecstatic, dramatic, chagrined:
Like ‘Moonlight and Magnolias,’ it’s soon Gone With the Wind.
If you’ve ever been on a really tight deadline, on a very important project, you know that things can get pretty tense and intense. When the white gloves come off, the boxing gloves may go on. You snipe at your collaborators and sans sleep, you start to get punchy. At some point, you may totally lose control.
That’s the premise of Ron Hutchinson’s conjectural comedy, “Moonlight and Magnolias,” about the backstory of the final screenplay for “Gone With the Wind.” Hutchinson is a screenwriter and script-doctor himself, so he fully understands the position the legendary Ben Hecht was thrown into when he was summoned by mega-mogul/producer David O. Selznick, who’d already been through scads of writers (including John Van Druten and F. Scott Fitzgerald) and who was already three weeks into production in 1939 when he pulled the plug on the film until he had a workable script. He yanked director Victor Fleming off “The Wizard of Oz,” and according to a brief reference in Hecht’s memoir (“A Child of the Century”), Selznick locked the three of them in a room for five days and wouldn’t let anyone out till he got a final version. Hecht and Fleming might’ve been doing it for money, but they were definitely under duress.
So, Hutchinson pulls out all the stops. He has the writer and director take sarcastic and literal jabs at each other. And after awhile, he has each character go totally ballistic (or, in the case of Selznick, catatonic). At one point, the situation devolves into a food fight. Oh yes, there’s the food. Selznick doesn’t want any distractions from the work, so he only allows what he deems “brain food” – the simian snacks of peanuts and bananas.
It’s a farcical situation, made more so under the direction of Tony Award-winner John (“ Urinetown ”) Rando, whose previous over-the-top hijinks at the Globe have included “Lucky Duck” and “The Comedy of Errors.” Historical verisimilitude isn’t Hutchinson ’s highest priority. Whether or not Hecht did, indeed, (re)write the screenplay of a 1000+ page book he’d never read is anyone’s guess. But that’s how Hutchinson conceives it, which gives Selznick (the antic and hilarious Dan Castellaneta , better known as the voice of Homer Simpson – as well as Krusty , Grandpa and others on “The Simpsons ”) and Fleming (funnyman Tom McGowan, last seen at the Globe in “Rounding Third” and at the La Jolla Playhouse in “School for Wives,” “Loot” and “Our Town”) the chance to act out the movie’s more significant scenes. This gives these guys a terrific opportunity to strut their comic stuff, playing whites, blacks, men, women, slaves, ingénues — and Clark Gable. There’s a heap of silliness and some great allusions to the movie, which after all, like the book, is a great big Civil War epic soap opera. While all this lunacy is taking place, along with the piled-up banana peels (no predictable slippage, thank goodness), Hecht (played funny/cynical by David Manis , who last appeared at the Globe in “Loves and Hours”) tries to construct a script — and spends much of the play at a typewriter.
Not content with the light side only, Hutchinson tacks on Hecht’s conscience – about the stereotypes rampant in GWTW’s plantation plot, and the plight of the Jews in Hollywood and in Europe (remember, this is 1939, on the cusp of WWII). Here, Hecht is hellbent on proving to Selznick that no matter how far he and his family have come (his father-in-law is the much-feared Louis B. Mayer) , the men who made the motion picture industry are still thought of as Jews, not Americans. These more serious elements strike a discordant note, which doesn’t harmonize with the rest of the tone of the piece, though they do reveal several sides of Hecht and Selznick. But we never learn much about Fleming (Hutchinson seems less sympathetic to directors), except that he used to be a chauffeur (and not mentioned here, got his movie start as a stunt driver), and that he opted for a salary rather than a percentage of the blockbuster film’s profits, a decision the poor man probably rued for the rest of his days (he died in 1949). Over the course of a three-decade career, Fleming directed nearly 50 films, including “The Wizard of Oz,” and he did win the Oscar for “GWTW,” but still…..
Hecht, on the other hand, was never given writing credits on the movie, so neither man walked away a total winner. Nonetheless, the story is a juicy one, and Hutchinson creates tons of amusing situations and clever dialogue, while Rando catapults it all over the edge. Speaking of stereotypes (we were, weren’t we?) we could probably do without Selznick’s secretary (Meagan Fay), a screechy ditz-brain who starts out pert and perky and ends up disheveled and be- slippered — but no less obsequious and subservient.
Overall, though, it’s a wild, raucous and entertaining evening. Not for movie fanatics who don’t want to know how all that magic gets made. And definitely not for historians and sticklers for fact. It sports a gorgeous Art Deco set (Alexander Dodge), a high-end, beige-and-black executive office with a circular lightboard above and palm-trees peeking up outside the huge picture window, enhanced by Phil Monat’s lighting and Paul Peterson’s sound design. To paraphrase Scarlett , ‘tomorrow is another day’; you can do your heavy thinking some other time.
At the Old Globe Theatre, through August 14.
COMING OUT… OF UTAH
There are a zillion coming-out stories in the Naked City (or any city). But Salt Lake City ? Yup. We heard about gay Mormons — and their wives and mothers — in Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America ” (1987). So what makes Steven Fales ’ “Confessions of a Mormon Boy” special? Well, Steven Fales . The writer/performer is just irresistible. He’s adorable, talented, honest, earnest, upbeat and genuine. His is not a new story, but it’s a good one.
Devoted Mormon boy (sixth generation), a pillar of the community, tries to overcome his ‘problem’ (SSA, Same Sex Attraction). He cries, he prays, he goes through several ‘reparative’ therapies. He even marries and has two kids. But no matter how much they try, the Mormons just can’t ‘cure’ him. He finally cracks at age 30, takes off his ceremonial underwear, divorces his wife (painfully giving up custody of the kids) and runs off to New York, where he tries acting and waiting tables, and ultimately becomes an escort, a highly paid male prostitute. After years of drugs and depravity, he comes around and straightens out his life and priorities.
When he was ex-communicated from the Mormon church , he was told that he’d lost any chance of salvation. Clearly, that isn’t so. There’s plenty of heartfelt expiation and real potential for redemption in his appealing theater piece. It sounds corny and sentimental, but it’s delivered like an intimate, heart-to-heart chat, directed just to you. It’s an object lesson (maybe it’s time for more people to “declare an end to [their] gay adolescence”) and a sad story of lost-and-found identity, of cults, of trying to adapt to others’ demands and expectations, of taking responsibility for your own life (and taking care of your body). Of not acting, or pasting on a “Donny Osmond smile.” Being yourself. There is, as I said, a never-ending flow of stories like this. But Fales ’ ingenuousness and ingenuity, honesty and hopeful, All-American Boy mien and manner, under the assured direction of Tony Award-winner Jack Hofsiss , keep you engaged. And audiences just keep coming.
This is already the most popular, highest-grossing show in the past five years of Diversionary Theatre’s history. And it’s a perfect offering during this Pride weekend.
Fales is incredibly courteous and considerate (BYU and the Ministry and the Church trained him well); he lovingly portrays all the many characters in his life. When his show played in New York (it’s now Off-Broadway bound), an audience member sent flowers backstage one night. It turned out to be his wealthy Japanese ‘john,’ who’s (gently) parodied in the play. Go see “Confessions,” and then read this again; it’ll demonstrate just what kind of guy this is. Fales ’ generosity never fails.
At Diversionary Theatre, through August 21.
LOOKING FOR LOVE IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES
“So Here’s the Thing…” everyone’s looking for love. And Joel Rieke , in his 21st century “Rent”-attempt, tracks 11 people and how they invariably make the wrong decisions looking for Mr., Ms. (or anyone) Right. We’ve seen gays and straights, bisexuals, druggies and botox addicts before. Now, how ‘bout a pregnant hermaphrodite? That’s a theatrical first, I’m sure.
Rieke , who cut his chops in an indie rock band, wrote book and lyrics — and appears (by default, when an actor dropped out four days before opening) in his own world premiere production. He’s created a pleasant, pop-rock score with a few clever lyric lines. But the recurrent musical themes (“How the Hell Did this Happen?” and at least four song reprises) become repetitive and non-contributory. The piece would be tighter and stronger if it were an intermissionless 90-minutes . Not enough happens, and most of it happens over and over. We get the point.
This plucky new company, P33 (named for San Diego’s location on the 33rd parallel), has its heart in the right place, paying designers, crew and actors — and hiring some of our best local talent, including David McBean, Leigh Scarritt and her daughter, Tiffany Jane; scenic designer Nick Fouch and a great 4-piece band (musical director/arranger Fred Lanuza on keyboards; Frank Sarmiento , bass; Jesse Michel, guitar; Danny King on drums).
Still, the situations are a tad trite, the music isn’t varied enough, and it all felt a little lopsided to me. All the females, for instance, are called ‘girls,’ but the guys are ‘men.’ There are gays but no lesbians. The characters are stereotypical: the brainless buff ones, the devil-may-care ‘I’ll do-anything-and-anyone’ bisexual, the sentimental gay man who makes an ill-fated choice. With all the scenelets and songs, the players don’t get to develop their characters, but they do get to belt and mug. Unfortunately, they don’t get to move very much. The direction (Emily Cornelius) is static and unimaginative. Perhaps editing and more inventive, choreographic direction would help to move the piece along. There’s a lot of talent up there, especially vocally (the acting is a little weaker). And there may be a few too many characters to keep straight (so to speak).
Scarritt does a funny, if exaggerated, turn as a pill-popping, botox -using, drink-swilling, neglectful mother to Jane’s smart if misguided teen, in love with a nice gay boy (Benjamin Lopez) who’s in love with a callous bi-guy ( Rieke ). Then there’s the beautiful, promiscuous Mac (fabulous, killer-voiced Jenn Grinels , who made such a splash in drag in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”), who tries to go straight with the upright, upright Paul (Trevor Hollingsworth), who winds up with the more family-valued virgin Carra ( Joyelle Cabato ), while Mac has an affair with her boss (Ruben Mier ). ( btw , the ‘intern,’ Paul, looked older and more mature than his boss). The airhead good-bodies (Joe Williams and knockout Judy Ho, who sports a strong voice and presence) intertwine with several other lost souls, while the pregnant, disheartened hermaphrodite (“Part Dick… and Jane”), played by David McBean, just pines all the time (why is he such a sad-faced depressive throughout?). With tightening and sharpening, the piece may have some legs (just get ‘em movin ’!!). Meanwhile, kudos to a courageous new company, who has the guts (or , , more likely in this case, the balls) to start a new theater venture in these arts-perilous times.
At the Lyceum Theatre, through July 31.
NORTH COUNTY NEWS
2fers 4 U. As of August 1, the San Diego Performing Arts League will be offering its half-price tickets, ARTS TIX, at the San Diego North Convention and Visitors Bureau in the California Center for the Arts complex in Escondido . ARTS TIX, modeled on the TKTS service in New York , was initiated in 1986 and has generated more than $11 million in revenue, selling more than 700,000 discounted tickets to date. 100% of its proceeds go back to the arts. In 2001, San Diego ’s ARTS TIX became the first not-for-profit discount ticket service in the U.S. to offer online sales, which have since surpassed walk-up booth sales. For tourists in North County , there will also be computer service onsite in Escondido . For you computer-addicted stay-at-homes, check out www.sandiegoperforms , and consider signing up for the ARTS TIX Daily email. Get tix cheap… and patronize your local arts organizations.
And speaking of discounts, this season the Poway Center for the Performing Arts is offering big ones for young people. Any time an adult ticket is purchased, for any PowPAC show, a youth of 18 and under gets in for only $5. There are more theater offerings this year, too, including appearances by acclaimed actors Judith Ivey and Michael York.
Improv is alive and well and thriving in San Diego and beyond. For the third year in a row, The National Comedy Theatre has been selected out of hundreds of performance groups from around the country, to entertain the troops overseas. This year, the company, which opened shop locally in 1999 and has performed over 1100 shows here, will tour Germany , Belgium and the Netherlands over a 4-week period (August 7-September 1). According to NCT artistic director Gary Kramer, “It’s just like Bob Hope’s tours, except for the dancing girls and the celebrities… and Bob Hope.” Local shows (improv team competitions) will continue during the tour. 619-295-4999.
Meanwhile, Theatresports – our other comedy-competition improvisational troupe, which has been entertaining local audiences for 25 years – is premiering a soap opera spoof called “Soap Scum.” The high-profile opening performance is a fundraiser featuring four actors from “General Hospital,” who’ll be trying their hands at improv while poking fun at their own trade — Adrianne Leon, Ignacio Serricchio , Cynthia Preston and Ryan Carnes (recently hailed as ‘the new Brad Pitt,’ and best known for his recurring role as Gabrielle’s gay gardener on “Desperate Housewives”). The new show is billed as “a cross between Dynasty, Soap, General Hospital and TheatreSports .” According to media coordinator Milo Shapiro, aka “the improv guy”: “What ‘Dynasty’ was to oil and ‘Falcon Crest’ was to wine, ‘Soap Scum’ will be to the high-powered, cutthroat world of… detergent.” The opening night fundraiser, Saturday, July 30, will take place at the Shiley Theatre on the campus of USD. All other shows are held at TheatreSports ’ FunHouse on El Cajon Blvd. (not far from Cygnet Theatre). www.improvise.net
POOR (IF LAVISH) PLANNING
The Abbey Theatre of Dublin celebrated its 100th anniversary in December 2004. The whole year was a sumptuous feast of celebrations – with three visiting productions from new EU members – Poland , Hungary and Slovenia , national and U.S. tours of plays and concerts, many publications, five productions for the Dublin Theatre Festival instead of the usual two. And an opulent centerpiece production of “The Shaughraun , which was a great success in Dublin but got a critical drubbing when it moved to London . The result of all this free spending? A $3.2 million deficit for the year, which brings the total deficit to about $5.9million. The Board will resign en masse when a new structure is put in place by the government. Whew! That’s some celebration – Call it Erin go Bust.
NOW, FOR WHAT’S ‘NOT TO BE MISSED!‘ (i.e., Critic’s Picks )
“Moonlight and Magnolias” – the comic backstory behind the screenplay of ‘Gone with the Wind.” Lots of laughs and clever references; GWTW devotees will love it.
At the Old Globe, through August 14.
“Confessions of a Mormon Boy” – not much new ground broken in this coming-out story, but writer/performer Steven Fales is adorable and irresistible.
At Diversionary Theatre, through August 21.
“The Pirates of Penzance ” – great fun! Swashbuckling Pirates, Damsels in Distress, bumbling cops and a Modern Major General. Who could ask for anything more? But wait! There are glorious voices and a splendid orchestra to boot! A good time will be had by all.
At Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista ; thru July 31.
“The Merchant of Venice ” – Richard Baird does it again. Excellent direction, marvelous performance (Shylock). Sensitive and nuanced production.
At the Academy of Performing Arts in la Mesa ; thru August 14.
“Tomfoolery” – great comical/cynical/musical fun. Tom Lehrer’s satirical songs are timeless… and versatile, irresistible performer Kristen Mengelkoch makes them sing!
A Renaissance Theatre co-production, at North Coast Repertory Theatre, through August 7.
“Macbeth” – marvelous direction (Paul Mullins), costumes (Linda Cho ) and truly spooky, chilling moments make this “ MacB ” a standout.
In repertory on the Globe’s Festival Stage, in repertory, through October 2.
“The Comedy of Errors” – Director Darko Tresnjak shows his sillier side, with a farcical, slapstick production that’s precisely directed and humorously performed.
In repertory on the Globe’s Festival Stage, in repertory, through October 2.
“ 42nd Street ” – glorious celebration of Bway’s glory days. Wonderful performances, outstanding choreography and dancing. Sheer delight!
At the Welk Resort Theatre, through August 28.
“The Male Intellect: An Oxymoron” – a fun date night, which shows both genders a few of their more amusing and infuriating foibles.
At the Theatre in Old Town , closing (after >250 performances), on September 4.
It’s almost August: draw a Leo out of his/her den… and take ‘em to the theater.
©2005 Patté Productions Inc.