Sunday, March 27, 2005

Moonlight and Magnolias

I decided to indulge in some culture this weekend. Instead of going to the movies, which I usually do, I decided to attend the theatre over the weekend.

Friday night, I schlepped out to Brooklyn, which I jokingly told a friend took as long as does to get to Scotland, to BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) to see a dance piece by Matthew Bourne who directed an all male version of Swan Lake a few years ago. You may have seen it at the end of Billy Elliot. This piece was based on a 1960's film The Servant which starred Dirk Bogarde. I've never seen the movie but I'm curious after seeing this piece.

It was actually pretty cool. The show was triple cast, so there were three scenes going on at one time, and you have to keep moving your focus around to see what was going on. The music was a kind of cool and jazzy, and I really dug the vintage costumes that the women were wearing, back when the average woman wasn't trying to be a size 2.

The Harvey theatre where the piece was done, is an old theatre that been redone, but they've left the building in a kind of decomposed state, which really worked well for the piece. We were sitting up in the nose bleed seats, but that was okay because we had an excellent view of the stage. The seats were high stools with backs, so that you felt comfortable, even though you were sitting high up.

Afterwards, LK and I walked over to this groovy wine bar that I read about in the program, called the Stonehome Wine bar. Outstanding, good food, good wine, very mellow vibe. The place was done up in golden wood with a curvy bar. It's not very big but the service was exceptional. I think we had like 3 people serving us. I would definitely go there again after a show. LK had the crabcakes, while I had the portobello mushroom pressed sandwich with goat cheese, and carmelized onions. Yummy.

Needing some more culture, and because I'm an orphan on holidays, I head over to Manhattan Theatre Club to see a new play called Moonlight and Magnolias. I had hoped to pick up a ticket at TDF but unfortunatly it wasn't listed which meant I had to shell out $60 to see this play.

Normally, I would balk at spending that kind of money, but the play was about the making of one of my favorite movies, Gone with the Wind, so I had to see it. Yes, I adore GTWT, which I've often felt guilty about, being a woman of color and all that. How could I love a movie, set in the deep south, with a heroine who is basically a selfish self-centered bitch for most of the film? We all know that GWTW is Margaret Mitchell's ode to a south that died during the Civil War, but in reality was dying anyway as the country moved further away from being an agricultural nation to more of an industrial nation.

I'm sure there are some people who put GTWT up there with Birth of a Nation, in terms of films that depict blacks in a demeaning light. I've never felt that way since Mammy is the only character who can make Scarlett see any kind of sense at all. She's the voice of reason. Hattie McDaniel lent Mammy a dignity and a grace that she might not have had with a lesser actress but I digress.

Anyway, I love the film even though I hated the book. Scarlett is twenty times bitchier in the book than she is in the movie. I guess it's the relationship of Scarlett and Rhett that draws me to the film. Scarlett spends 3/4 of the film pining after a man she can't have, when the only man who is a match for her, who can stand toe to toe, and not let her get away with any of her crap is Rhett but she doesn't realize it until it's too late. Rhett's her soulmate and Ashley is the dream of the man that she thinks that she should be with. A man who will bow beneath her strength and let her get away with murder. A man that she can never really respect precisely because he gives in to her.

I first saw the movie on television, one of those two part events that were so prevalent in the 70's when miniseries were king. I also had the privilege of seeing the movie several times on the big screen, the first at the old Regency theatre on W. 67th street (sorely missed) which showed revivals of classic and foreign films.

I was a little obsessed with learning everything I could about the making of the movie. I had the original screenplay by Sidney Howard, many, many books about the making of the film, several biographies of Vivien Leigh. When the sequel came out in the 1990's, I bought it and was disappointed to find out that the author had written a sequel to the movie not the book. Frankly Scarlett was a piece of dreck and clearly was only written to make money.

Margaret Mitchell never intended there to be a sequel to GWTW, the ending was deliberately left ambiguous, so that the reader could imagine whether or not, Scarlett got her wish of reuniting with Rhett. Frankly, it would take several sessions with Dr. Phil to make that a reality.

Well, this play is about the week that Ben Hecht spent with David O. Selznick, the producer who has gambled his entire reputation and fortune on this one book, rewriting the script, after Selznick has fired the director and the screenwriter. Although I doubt that Hecht spent a great deal of time, lecturing Selznick on how to be a Jew, the play did give you a feeling for what it was like for these pioneers of the film industry who were mainly Jewish but who thought of themselves as Americans first, although most people didn't.

The play really gives you a feel for what it's like to be a creative artist, forced to make compromises but still fighting for the integrity of their art. Loved the fact that Hecht apparently was the only person in the world who hasn't read GWTW.

Performances all uniformly excellent, especially Douglas Sills as Selznick. He certainly proved that he was more than a singer in this role.

Great play if you love film, and you love writers.

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