Experiment

Moonlight and Magnolias tries to rewrite movie history; Jubilee Theatre makes Crumbs palatable

If there's one thing that's right and true about the play, however, it is that it shows how difficult it was (and still is) to translate a complicated story from the page to the screen. Creative personalities clash. Producers are control freaks. Directors argue that they do more work than writers. Writers don't get the credit they deserve.

All of that was true with GWTW, which was written, rewritten, cast, filmed and released in theaters in just less than a year, close to impossible for such a big picture in today's Hollywood. The movie won eight Academy Awards, including Selznick's first for Best Picture, Fleming's for Best Director and one for Best Screenplay, accepted by Sidney Howard, who'd quit the movie before Hecht was hired. What about Hecht? He got a flat fee and no screen credit for writing what is still regarded as the most successful film, artistically and financially, ever made.

"The honors Hollywood has for the writer are as dubious as tissue-paper cuff links," Hecht once said. Fiddle-dee-dee, Ben, fiddle-dee-dee.

David O. Selznick (Matt Gaydos), Ben Hecht (Brad Bellamy) and Victor Fleming (Richard Ziman) wrestle Gone With the Wind into a workable screenplay in DTC's Moonlight and Magnolias.
Linda Blase
David O. Selznick (Matt Gaydos), Ben Hecht (Brad Bellamy) and Victor Fleming (Richard Ziman) wrestle Gone With the Wind into a workable screenplay in DTC's Moonlight and Magnolias.

Details

Moonlight and Magnolias continues through February 18 at Dallas Theater Center, 214-522-8499.

Crumbs From the Table of Joy continues through February 25 at Jubilee Theatre, Fort Worth, 817-338-4411.


Movies also emerge as a central theme in Lynn Nottage's Crumbs From the Table of Joy, getting a pleasant if overly sentimental staging by director Sharon Benge at Fort Worth's Jubilee Theatre. Set in 1950, the play chronicles the problems a motherless black family from Florida has assimilating into life in a mostly Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn at the beginning of the end of the Jim Crow era.

Teenage sisters Ernestine and Ermina Crump (Kia Dawn Fulton, Charlet Dupar) reluctantly move north with their father Godfrey (Wilbur Penn), a hardworking cookie baker and devotee of radio evangelist Father Divine. Feeling isolated by race and religion, Ernestine escapes to the movies, where she idolizes Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. She dreams of her own life in the spotlight and rewrites happier outcomes to situations in her household—scenes she reveals in speeches directly to the audience.

The Crumps' tiny basement apartment gets more cramped with the arrival of slutty Aunt Lily (Stormi Demerson), who runs with Communists and Harlem agitators. When Godfrey abruptly disappears, then returns, married to a plump white German woman (Desiree Fultz) he met on the subway, the girls find themselves in their own little Peyton Place.

Nottage, who grew up in Brooklyn, hit it big in 2004 with Intimate Apparel, a critically praised drama about women workers in the garment industry in 1905. Crumbs From the Table of Joy was her first produced full-length play in 1996, and it shows all the marks of a playwright just starting out. Commissioned as a children's play, it falls into choppy storytelling marked with bursts of melodrama, though there are hints of originality in lines such as Ernestine's lament that her mother's death "made us nauseous with regret."

Jubilee's production, a little on the plodding side, benefits from strong casting. Fulton has played leads in musicals at Uptown Players and Lyric Stage, but in a non-singing role as the talkative Ernestine, she proves to be a sprightly comedic actor with an infectious twinkle. Dupar equals her energy and spunk as the younger sis. Something about Demerson just doesn't click as the oversexed aunt, however, like she's three beats behind everyone else onstage. And as Gerte, the German interloper, Fultz is all blond hair and heaving bosoms.

Crumbs isn't bad. It's just an early play by a writer who got better later on.

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