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Theatre in the Park’s regional premiere of Don’t Cry for Me, Margaret Mitchell, Duke Ernsberger and Virginia Cate’s fact-based speculative comedy about the desperate last-minute revision of Sidney Howard’s overly long script for Gone with the Wind, is more fun than a barrel of monkeys. Which is ironic, because high-powered Gone with the Wind producer David O. Selznick (played by Joel T. Horton) dictated a diet of bananas and roasted peanuts in the shell — thinking that other foods slowed down cogitation — for himself, shanghaied screenwriter Ben Hecht (portrayed by Larry Evans), and newly hired director Victor Fleming (impersonated by Timothy Corbett) as they shortened and worked out the kinks in the Gone with the Wind script during a five-day marathon that the mother-son playwriting team of Virginia Cate and Duke Ernsberger have imagined as a no-holds-barred brainstorming session in which Selznick and Fleming act out the film story, scene-by-scene, as Hecht — who hasn’t even read the novel — slices and dices and polishes the dialogue.
During Thursday night’s final dress rehearsal of Don’t Cry for Me, Margaret Mitchell, Joel Horton was hilarious as a monomaniacal film-studio autocrat who tortures a new script out of a kidnapped screenwriter and a up-and-coming director whose principal claim to fame is that he is Clark Gable’s favorite director. Timothy Corbett and Joel Horton prove fine farceurs as they act out juicy scenes in the Gone with the Wind, frequently in partial drag, but always with brio.
Larry Evans really sinks his teeth into his meaty role as poor hungover Ben Hecht, whose uncredited contribution to Gone with the Wind was substantial; and Donna Rossi-Youngblood is a delight as Selznick’s imperturbable administrative assistant Ms. Peabody, who never questions why she must keep the motley crew of increasingly disheveled script doctors provisioned with massive amounts of peanuts and bananas.
Theatre in the Park executive and artistic director Ira David Wood III whips up this comic soufflé with the masterful touch of an Iron Chef, liberally employing slapstick to garner belly-laughs. Technical director and scenic and lighting designer Stephen J. Larson likewise does a first-rate job of recreating Selznick’s office in detail, complete with a dart through a Hedda Hopper photo pinned to the inside of the door to the executive washroom; and costume designer Shawn Stewart-Larson’s period wardrobe also adds to spice and authenticity of the proceedings.
Judging from the enthusiastic response during the show’s final dress rehearsal, Don’t Cry for Me, Margaret Mitchell hits the audience’s funny-bone dead center. The side-splitting shenanigans on view Thursday night can only get funnier in performance as the crackerjack cast perfects its comic timing and heightens the hilarity of each scene.
Don’t Cry for Me, Margaret Mitchell will complete its two-week run on February 18-21. Please see our theatre calendar for details.