Don’t Cry for Me, Margaret Mitchell
Theatre in the Park
Through Feb. 21
After seven decades, the 1939 film of Gone With the Wind remains the highest-grossing film of all time after adjusting for inflation (yes, even bigger than Avatar). The adaptation of this sprawling work from page to film is a monumental story in itself, from casting to filming to writing the screenplay. This last tale forms the basis of Theatre in the Park’s Don’t Cry for Me, Margaret Mitchell, a broad comedy that never quite jells.
Written by the mother-son team of Duke Ernsberger and Virginia Cate, Mitchell is based on a real-life episode in which Hollywood producer David O. Selznick, desperate for a workable script for Gone With the Wind, got The Front Page co-writer Ben Hecht and director Victor Fleming in his office to bang out a new draft in a week, while subsisting on nothing but bananas and peanuts. (This was also the subject of a 2004 stage comedy by Ron Hutchinson, Moonlight and Magnolias.) Hecht hadn’t read the book, but with an existing screen treatment and Selznick and Fleming acting out scenes, they were able to finish it in time to make cinematic history.
The difficulty with this premise is that it’s simply three men in a room acting out scenes from Gone With the Wind (with an assistant occasionally interrupting). The further difficulty is that Ira David Wood III directs the proceedings in a way that plays up its most cartoonish aspects. Joel T. Horton fares best as Selznick, bringing a weird earnestness to the part (also, he somehow pulls off a Minnie Pearl hat). But the pacing feels off; there are too many jokes about the characters broadly acting out the likes of Scarlett and Mammy and occasionally making homoerotic overtures to each other. Starting the action after playing the entire opening credits music to Gone With the Wind doesn’t help to engage the audience members, a number of whom disappeared between the first and second acts at the performance I attended.
As a script, Margaret Mitchell can’t quite tell if it wants to be a Marx Brothers-meets-Shakespeare in Love fantasia about how the film’s most famous moments came to be, or a more factual look at the odd obstacles the creative team had to face, ranging from not being allowed to show slaves to not saying “damn.” The experience has some amusing moments, but if you really want the story behind Gone With the Wind, you might be better off with some DVD extras than this production.