It’s been years since I took in a double feature. And not only that – I’m not sure I’ve ever seen two live theatre performances in one day … until a couple of weeks ago. I saw a matinee performance of “Moonlight & Magnolias” and went to the opening night of “The Importance of Being Earnest,” both at Canyon Theatre Guild in Newhall.
Moonlight & Magnolias
One of the things that attracted me to “Moonlight & Magnolias” is its relationship to “Gone with the Wind.” Being a big GWTW fan, I’m well acquainted with the characters, plotline and some of the off-camera drama of the 1939 “Best Picture” Academy Award winner.
Set in the office of David O. Selznick (who won “Best Director” honors from the Academy for GWTW), there are only three other cast members, including Selznick’s secretary, “Miss Poppenghul” (played by Linda Thompson), director “Victor Fleming,” and “Ben Hecht,” a screenwriter.
The play is a farcical account of Selznick’s efforts to save the film from its flawed script, but the characters are based on real individuals. The real-life Selznick did replace the movie’s original director – George Cukor – with Fleming, and he actually did hire Hecht to doctor the script.
Like most satires, it’s a hyperbolic depiction of true events, but the setup was historical. Selznick did practically hold the two men hostage for days while they worked on the screenplay.
The four actors in Canyon Theatre Guild’s production were all up to the level, especially their comedic timing. It’s hard to believe the three men – Michael Collins (Fleming), Barry Agin (Hecht), and lead, Paul Michael Nieman (Selznick) could memorize that many lines.
Audience members who will like M&M the most, I believe, are: those who like Hollywood inside stories; “Gone With the Wind” fans; and people who like physical comedy.
Like a lot of satirical material, you learn some of the back story by reading between the lines. At times the actors mimic GWTW characters from “Rhett” to “Prissy” and take calls from the likes of Hedda Hopper and Vivien Leigh.
Canyon Theatre’s production begins with a short screening of clips from “The Three Stooges,” which is an excellent tie-in to the type of humor you can expect in M&M. A lot of it involves falling, slapping and poking, so if you love Moe, Larry & Curly you’ll be laughing a lot in Newhall.
The Importance of Being Earnest
A jewel from the late Oscar Wilde, “The Importance of Being Earnest” is fun to see over and over again. The lead character is the apparently upstanding “Jack” (played by Christopher Flowers) who is guardian to “Cecily” (played by James Coblenz) and has an imaginary brother named “Ernest.”
Jack’s love interest is “Gwendolen,” (played by Keri Green) whose cousin is his best friend, “Algernon” (played by Matthew Fernandez). Because “Jack” goes by “Ernest” while in London, there is confusion, particularly when “Algernon” poses as imaginary brother “Ernest,” and Jack’s beloved, Gwendolen, states that she only wants to marry a man named “Ernest,” adding to the irony and general befuddlement.
Confused? You’re kind of supposed to be.
The Canyon Theatre Guild cast did a great job. They clearly worked on their British accents and delivered them believably. Some of the casting was unusual, but it added to the intrigue that Wilde was known for. The performance lived up to my expectations – amusing and fun.