In Moonlight and Magnolias, the new play at the , La Grange actor Harry Hultgren plays the lead role of Hollywood producer David O. Selznick. It's the perfect character, Hultgren said, to force a performer to flex their acting muscles.
"Everything revolves around him," Hultgren told me recently. "You have to walk a line, because you can't over do it."
The play is an "actor's play," director Rick Snyder said. Rapid-fire dialogue and the ability bounce the characters off one another as they share the stage takes a special talent. The play is full of laughs, but is also not without its serious moments. Actors must be able to switch back and forth quickly, which is something, he said, that makes the play a lot of fun to watch.
Moonlight and Magnolias opened on Sept. 6 at the theatre and will run through next weekend. According to both Hultgren and Snyder, it's one not to miss.
"It's a great comedy," Hultgren said. "It has strong dialogue and it's very entertaining, even if you're not all that familiar with the movie."
The movie he's referring to isn't the cinematic version of Moonlight and Magnolias, but rather the movie that the play revolves around: Gone with the Wind.
The play is centered about Hultgren's character, Gone with the Winds' producer David O. Selznick. In the play, Selznick is continually frustrated with the scripts for Gone with the Wind to the point that he decides it needs yet another re-write. However, he has recently fired the movie's director and by suspending shooting until a new script is finished, he's losing $50,000 a day to pay the cast and crew.
Selznick decides to lock himself, new director Victor Fleming and script doctor Ben Hecht in his office, with nothing but peanuts and bananas to eat until a better script can be finished. The twist is that Hecht has never read the book that the movie is based on and thinks it will be a dud. Fleming and Selznick must then reenact the book (and thus the movie as they see it) to convince Hecht it's worth undertaking.
"We've had a lot of peanuts and bananas backstage," Hultgren laughed. "Luckily, that's not all we've had to eat."
Hultgren said finding his version of the character was a bit difficult, which made it all the more fun to act.
"The cast is absolutely terrific," Hultgren said. "They really make the play. It can be challenging to do and that makes it more fun."
Snyder said he selected the play, which opens the theatre's 84th season, for it's balance of the comedic and the serious.
"[Selznick] is a very passionate man, who drives his whole vision of [the movie] to the point where sometimes you're laughing and at other times, you have to take a step back."
According to Snyder, that sort of acting takes special talent, which is why he was fortunate to cast Hultgren and fellow actors Bridgette Bittman, Tim Feeeny and Jonathon Kraft—playing Miss Poppenghul, Ben Hecht and Victor Fleming respectively—in the roles.
"All these guys have a great comedic sense," Snyder said of the cast. "But, they can also play the serious parts in a way that shows a lot of depth."
The play continues this weekend with shows on Saturday, Sept. 8 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 9 and 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
It returns next week with shows on Sept. 13 and 14 at 8 p.m.; on Sept. 15 at 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sept. 16 at 2:30 p.m.
Tickets are $18 and $20 and can be purchased online on the Theatre of Western Springs website, or at the box office.