Heritage Theatre Festival to Present Farce 'Moonlight and Magnolias'

July 8, 2009 — Imagine you are the producer of the biggest movie in Hollywood history and it is stalled in production. It is the late 1930s and the script for your film, "Gone with the Wind," is a total disaster. Every day of shooting you miss costs you $50,000. What's a movie mogul to do?

If you are David O. Selznick – at least as portrayed in the Hollywood sendup, "Moonlight and Magnolias" – you lock yourself in a room with the best writer and director of the day and vow to not come out until you get it right. And you insist on feeding them only peanuts and bananas (because, of course, you believe food will impede the flow of creative juices).

That's the premise of Ron Hutchinson's acclaimed comedy, currently on stage at the Heritage Theater Festival. The production, directed by Douglas Sprigg and featuring the return of longtime Charlottesville media favorite Dave Cupp, opens this week at Culbreth Theatre. The show runs July 9-11, July 28, 31 and Aug. 5.

Performances begin at 7:30 p.m., and there will be a special post-show "Talk Back" with cast members on July 28. Tickets for the show are $22 for adults, $19 for seniors (60 and older) and U.Va. faculty and staff and $14 for students. Season and single-show tickets are available online at the Heritage Box Office or by calling 434-924-3376.

According to director Douglas Sprigg, "Moonlight and Magnolias" uses a true story as a launching pad.

"The year 1939 was an incredible year for good movies, highlighted by 'Gone With the Wind' and 'The Wizard of Oz,'" Sprigg said. "After five weeks of shooting, Selznick was unhappy with what he had, so he called in writer Ben Hecht and pulls director Victor Fleming off of 'Wizard of Oz' to join him in getting the job done."

One major problem: Hecht had never read the best-selling book, forcing Selznick and Fleming (played by Cupp, formerly a longtime news anchor at WVIR) to act out the already melodramatic tale – from burnin' buildings to birthin' babies and beyond. The playful pantomime helps set the stage for an evening of giggles and guffaws as this trio tests their endurance and sanity in the name of art.

The show has taken on a life-imitating-art quality for Sprigg and his cast. "With a typical summer theatre rehearsal window, we are portraying the stress of working on a deadline and experiencing it all at the same time," he said

Those stresses, he said, have been helped by working with a great group of actors. "We have an incredibly talented cast who are well known in the theater community here, including Steven Levine, Daria Okugawa, Bob Porter and of course, Dave Cupp."

The Heritage Theatre Festival season continues at the Culbreth with the timeless tale "On Golden Pond," opening on July 16 at Culbreth Theatre. The play will be followed by the comedy "Red, White & Tuna" (opening July 21 at the Helms Theatre) and the plant-eats-man mania of "Little Shop of Horrors" (opening July 23 at the Culbreth Theatre).

"Pump Boys and Dinettes" continues at the Helms Theatre through Saturday.