LEWISTON — “Moonlight and Magnolias” at The Public Theatre  is a zany full-throttle romp through Hollywood’s golden age of glamour and gossip.

The opening night audience howled with delight as hilarious sight gags and pratfalls cascaded across the stage. At intermission, the buzz clearly indicated that just about everyone would be telling friends that this is a “don’t-miss-it” production.
The story is a mostly-true slice of film-making history. When legendary producer David O. Selznick decides that a script re-write is needed for “Gone With the Wind,” he shuts down production and corrals a noted director and screenwriter to salvage his pet project. The trio spends five frantic days of self-imposed imprisonment in Selznick’s plush office as they bat out the new script.
Janet Mitchko, TPT’s associate artistic director and director of “Moonlight and Magnolias,” has orchestrated a farcical tour de force. There’s never a dull moment in her guidance of four very talented actors who pull out all the stops, both physically and verbally.
David Davolos plays Selznick, who feels his entire career and legacy hangs on making “Gone With the Wind” a hit. His performance strikes an important balance between Selznick’s desperate effort to maintain dignity when he’s on the phone and his panic over the mounting production costs.
Davolos has appeared in several TPT productions.
Mike Anthony, a veteran of performances with The Theater at Monmouth, is making his TPT debut in “Moonlight and Magnolias.” Anthony portrays Ben Hecht, noted newsman and screenplay writer to whom Selznick assigns the full re-write task. Unfortunately, Hecht has read only the first page of “Gone With the Wind.” Furthermore, he is constantly berating and badgering the other two men on the team for being socially insensitive.
Peter Simon Hilton plays Victor Fleming. Selznick pulls him off the job as director of “The Wizard of Oz” and gives him the GWTW assignment. Fleming, who has made several successful action films, thinks “Gone With the Wind” is “piffle.”
Hilton was last seen at TPT as Hyde in “Jekyll and Hyde,” and he has performed at numerous theaters throughout the nation.
Hilton’s performance is exceptionally athletic. His portrayal of the totally macho Fleming turns uproariously upside-down as he acts out Prissy’s role as the prancing, dawdling young maid who was supposed to help with “birthing” Melanie’s baby. Hilton then goes legs-up on the couch as Melanie, with Selznick (Davalos) imitating Scarlett O’Hara who is exhorting him/her to “push, push.”
The play abounds with side-splitting scenes. Selznick, Hecht and Fleming loose control as they swap slaps in a debate over how Scarlett should strike Prissy.
Anthony and Hilton play well against each other as Hecht fights for social conscience in the script and Fleming just wants to get it done. In fact, considering the silliness of the play, audiences don’t have to dig very deep to see contemporary contrasts with the 1940s morality.
There is one other actor in this play. Cheryl Reynolds, a veteran of numerous stage productions throughout this area, plays Miss Poppenghul, the loyal and mostly level-headed secretary to Selznick. She keeps the men supplied with bananas and peanuts, and her lines are mostly “Yes, Mr. Selznick” this and “Yes, Mr. Selznick” that. But near the show’s end she has a wonderfully memorable scene that’s excellently enhanced by lighting designer Bart Garvey and set designer Jennifer Madigan.
“Moonlight and Magnolias” was written by Ron Hutchinson. Its premier was in Chicago in 2004 and its first New York production was a year later.
Remaining performances of “Moonlight and Magnolias” will be at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, May 8 and 9; 8 p.m. Saturday, May 10; and 2 p.m. Sunday, May 11. There is an additional 2 p.m. performance Saturday, May 10.
For tickets, call 782-3200 or visit www.thepublictheatre.org for more information.
TPT will be conducting its annual silent auction in the lobby.
The Public Theatre is located at 31 Maple Street in downtown Lewiston.


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