Ron Hutchinson’s “Moonlight and Magnolias” sheds a humorous light on serious topics
February 10, 2023
The theater department is performing Ron Hutchinson’s Moonlight and Magnolias on main-stage Feb. 23-26. The production is student-directed and introduces serious themes around race and discrimination through a satirical lens. Stage manager and theater education senior Sammi Mitchell said this results in slight growth for the characters.
“It takes place over a span of five days, and they don’t get to leave the room for five days… a lot of chaos ensues, and, in that process, they are dealing with their own personal opinions and objectives on things,” Mitchell said.
While Moonlight and Magnolias characters find themselves in an intimate space, the cast members have grown to be an equally intimate group. Theater performance junior Brennan Wright, who plays David O. Selznick echoes this sentiment.
“It’s a really small cast. We have three principal characters, a supporting character and we have a swing who kind of deals with everybody in case one of us gets sick or absent,” Wright said. “Because of that nature it doesn’t really feel like we’re rehearsing a play. It feels like we’re a couple of kids in the neighborhood, after school, just playing pretend.”
Each cast member emphasized their positive feelings around the team dynamic for this production. Mitchell described it as being “the dream team.” The beginning of building that team was Chelsea Chappell, theater education senior and director of Moonlight and Magnolias.
“I just got a call from our professor Elizabeth, and she asked, ‘Hey would you be interested in directing a student-directed show this next semester?’ and I [very much] tried to keep my cool and was like, ‘yeah, that’d be super awesome!’ We discussed the logistics of that and everything and then I hung up. [When] I got into the living room, my knees just buckled,” Chappell said.
Wright said the first group read-through of the script took place near the end of the Fall 2022 semester, and rehearsals began quickly at the beginning of this semester. Over this period, Wright said he has found elements of his character to be relatable.
“He’s a producer who’s done King Kong, Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind, which is what the play is mainly about. He’s a very uptight, controlling character but he’s also very passionate about his business and you can see that passion when he talks about, you know, the way of movies,” Wright said. “What helps me relate to Selznick is that I am also a big fan of movies. I love the process of making them… it’s nice to kind of show that side of myself in [Selznick’s] character as well.”
Tyler Lincoln, theater senior who plays Ben Hecht. He said he has found that he relates to Hecht’s determination to defend his beliefs.
“He is probably the sanest of the two characters that you’ll see in this play. He is the most knowledgeable of what’s going on,” Lincoln said. “He stands for what is right for the world, so that’ll be something interesting I think the audience will very much love.”
The final lead role, Victor Flemming, is played by theater and mass communication junior Jay Phillips. Phillips said his character embodies a relaxed confidence.
“Flemming is a film director. He’s based on a real character and in the context of this story he is kind of the one that doesn’t want to be there when they’re trying to make this movie and he’s kind of the foil of the other two characters and he’s the contrast,” Phillips said. “He’s funny, witty, playful, energetic. He’s the big guy on set, the hot shot. But he’s also a misogynist, racist, you know, reflecting the time period.”
Flemming is described by Chappell as an opportunity to begin a discussion about the racist things Flemming says. For that reason, the casting choice for Flemming is not as straightforward of a choice as one might assume.
“One of the choices that I made as a director that…can’t help but be noticed is our most bigoted and racist character and the only non-Jewish character in the main cast is a person of color, which raised a lot of questions at first. But I had talked with this actor beforehand and discussed that I think this role could, if we turn it on its head, be more productive being cast as a person of color than being cast as, say, a white person,” Chappell said. “When you hear a black person impersonating a minstrel show character it will make the audience uncomfortable [and] make them question things more.”
Moonlight and Magnolias’ playwright introduces these questions under an air of humor according to Phillips. Each cast member made the point that this is a refreshing way to take on more difficult topics.
“We know what the subject matter is, but we can be relaxed in knowing that it’s through satire that we’re approaching topics and discussing it… sometimes you need to break down the barriers of a heavy topic with laughter and be comfortable,” Phillips said.