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'Moonlight and Magnolias' at Collaborative Theatre

It’s 1939, and legendary film producer David O. Selznick is five weeks into shooting “Gone With the Wind” when he realizes the script is terrible and cannot be saved. With five days to replace it and restart the shoot, Selznick pulls Victor Fleming off the set of “The Wizard of Oz” to direct the new version, enlisting playwright, screenwriter and script doctor Ben Hecht to rewrite the script.

There’s only one small problem: Hecht has never read the book. Selznick and Fleming act out the story for him. With time running out and the phone ringing off the hook with calls from Vivien Leigh, Louis B. Mayer and Ed Sullivan, the men become tired and hungry. Tempers flare.

By the end of the week, there is a script, and Selznick asks, “Is there anything wrong with getting the job done, no matter what it takes?”

As three big creative egos navigate the shrinking deadline and external pressures, “Moonlight and Magnolias” subversively critiques the Hollywood culture of the time with its combination of side-splitting reenactments of now-iconic scenes and its underlying social commentary on the era’s views of race, religion and gender.

Playwright Paul Hutchinson’s riotously funny, and sometimes pointed, comedy is set against the backdrop of the iconic film “Gone With the Wind.” It’s a richly layered, comedic glimpse into a post-war era.

“It’s slapstick comedy with a conscience,” says Obed Medina, who co-directs Collaborative Theatre Project’s production with Beth Boulay.

“Moonlight and Magnolias” previews Thursday, May 31, opens Friday, June 1, and runs through June 24 at the community theater, 555 Medford Center, Medford. Shows are set for 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, May 31 through June 2, June 7-9, 14-16 and 21-23, and 1:30 p.m. Sundays, June 3, 10, 17 and 24.

Wine, hors d’oeuvres, photos with Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler and a costume contest will be available at the gala opening Friday, June 1. Dress as your favorite ’40s Hollywood star. An award and prizes will be given to the best-costumed star or starlet.

Reproduction gowns based on the notable wardrobe of “Gone With the Wind,” courtesy of Renaissance Rose in Ashland, will be displayed at the show’s opening, and an after party with cast and crew will be at Porters Restaurant. The art installation for this production will feature the works of Clifford Wilton.

Preview tickets are $15. All other tickets are $25, $20 for seniors, $18 for students, and can be purchased at ctporegon.com, by calling 541-779-1055, or at the box office. Group sales also are available.

Co-directors Medina and Boulay acknowledge and appreciate that they each bring a different perspective to the production.

“I’m not an actor at all,” Medina says. “I thought it would be interesting to see directing from an actor’s point of view.”

For Boulay’s part, her experience in acting led to an interest in directing.

The combination of larger vision and detailed focus have served them well, Medina says. He was drawn to the script, which he describes as relentlessly funny for its combination of something new with a familiar theme.

“Everybody loves a good backstory,” Medina says. “I thought this would be a perfect fit.”

The “making-of” backdrop peppered with familiar Hollywood icons creates an instant connection and foundation for a new telling from the Hollywood era of the late 1930s.

Jeff Ripley plays Victor Fleming, John Richardson is Selznick, William Coyne is Hecht, and Meagan Kirby plays Miss Poppenghul, Selznick’s aide.

The four-person cast also eminently suits the strengths of CTP. Medina sees the smaller theater setting as an advantage for theatergoers.

“Bigger theaters depend on spectacle,” he says. “We adjust for our space, and it enriches the show. We connect with the audience.”

Boulay agrees. An actor by training, she knows firsthand the connection that builds between actor and audience in a closer setting, where they must focus more on characterization and detail and can see the audience respond accordingly.

Boulay also recognizes the often self-deprecating humor of the script.

“I love how it’s about the business of art,” Boulay says. “It’s a fun microcosm of what we try to do here.”

While not strictly autobiographical, she reminds us, it is based on real characters that had to navigate the issues of the time.

“It’s fun and funny, but it’s not frivolous,” she says. “Along with the laughs, there are good talking points about responsibility within society.”

Post-performance discussions with the actors and other moderators will be held after Sunday matinees.

Valerie Coulman is a freelance writer and author in Southern Oregon. Reach her at val@valeriecoulman.com.

Photos courtesy of GS Katz PhotographyJohn Richardson, left, William Coyne and Jeff Ripley appear in Collaborative Theatre Project's "Moonlight and Magnolias."