“Moonlight & Magnolias” at the Spotlight Theatre

I had a great time last weekend seeing “Moonlight & Magnolias” on the Dreyling Stage of the Spotlight Theatre in Beech Grove, on the southeast side of Indianapolis.  The play was written by Ron Hutchinson, directed by Brent A. Wooldridge, and produced by Phyllis Gant Munro.

Spotlight’s is the first of three separate productions of this comedy that will run in the Indianapolis area within a month or two of each other.  That is funny in itself, I know, but now that I have seen the piece once, I love that I will be able to see two other interpretations of it right away, if I can fit them into my calendar.

It will be hard to beat this first one. 

The year is 1939.  Jay Hemphill (center in above photo) is endearingly driven as the movie producer David O. Selznick.  David wants to make a movie out of Margaret Mitchell’s bestselling novel, Gone with the Wind, but so far, it is not going well.

He brings in a friend and former “newspaperman,” now screenwriting wizard, Ben Hecht, to rewrite the script.  Dean Reynolds (left in above photo) is endearingly cynical as Ben.

David also pulls director Victor Fleming off the “Wizard of Oz” project, where he has been fighting with the Munchkins anyway.  Stephen E. Foxworthy (right in above photo) is endearingly pragmatic as Victor.

The problem is, David is feeling pressure from his famous and powerful film producer father-in-law, Louis B. Mayer, and the ghost of his own father, a failed film producer, to produce a hit and quickly, but Ben can only give David a week’s worth of writing time and he has only read the first page of the novel.  David tells his devoted secretary, Miss Poppenghul (Allison Wilkerson) to load them up with bananas and peanuts for brain food and to keep out the rest of the world while they work.

David and Victor will act out the novel so that Ben can write it down in script form.

Oh, my, it is funny to watch them work, especially as the days go by and they get wearier and wearier and David’s office gets messier and messier.  Director Wooldridge has all four actors interacting at an attractively snappy pace, and the three main characters have a dynamic between them that is both natural and electric. There is a lot of physicality in this show – slaps, tussles, and more, plus, of course, the acting out of the story they are working on – but the three men make it all look real.  (Maybe it is real!  I hope they all have lots of bruise cream in their medicine cabinets at home.)

It is also fascinating to watch three different filmmakers, with three different approaches to life as well as to filmmaking, argue about how best to approach telling a story.

I admire set designer/decorator Susan Yeaw for her thought-provoking approach, too.  She put the audience on two adjacent sides of the small, square, movie poster-bedecked office (which has THREE matching old-timey phones, by the way – impressive for an all-volunteer community theatre!), perhaps to make the audience subliminally think of the myriad choices available to a filmmaker.  I wish I had thought of switching sides at intermission, just to see what the show looked like from the other side, but I bet either side is good.  A curtain or wall or something makes a sort of barrier wedge between the two sides, but if you sit in the first or second row, as I did, it is fun to be able to glance over at the “other” audience every once in a while and see your own laughs mirrored in their faces.  Actually, I only thought to do that once. The rest of the time, I was too caught up in the story to think of it.

(Update 2-19-12: I heard from someone at Spotlight that all plays on the Dreyling stage have the audience on two adjacent sides, so this wasn’t something unique to “Moonlight & Magnolias.”  I appreciate getting that information but be that as it may, the Dreyling stage lends itself very well to this particular play, and the director and set designer did a great job of working with the stage’s unusual challenges.)

Molly Bellner’s lighting design highlights (no pun intended) the humor of the show.  Jim LaMonte’s sound design grounds us in the time period.  The men all look good in their characters’ clothes, but I especially admired Miss Poppenghul’s stocking seams in Lindsey Lord’s costume design.

Spotlight’s production of this piece runs only one more weekend, through the 6pm performance on Sunday, February 19, 2012.  For more information, please see www.spotlight-players.org.  To make a reservation, call 317-767-2774 or purchase tickets online at www.brownpapertickets.com.

‘See you at the theatres!

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com

P.S. – I hadn’t been out to Spotlight for a year or two.  I was struck last weekend by how consisently the Spotlight Players have continued to improve the space and make it their own.  I wrote about their “new” space when they first acquired it in the summer of 2008.   They have come a very long way since then!

P.P. S. – Photos for this post were provided to me by Phyllis Gant Munro.  Looking at them again, I also want to give a shout out to stage manager Amanda Lane.  What a mess she and Phyllis clean up every night!


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