Posts Tagged Jessica Denes

“Moonlight and Magnolias” – a little background

"Moonlight and Magnolias"

Cast (missing Cindy Hartog), Director and Stage Manager – "Moonlight and Magnolias"

Just in case you missed the excellent article in “The Prompter” – a little background information for “Moonlight and Magnolias”:

From its inception, the film version of Margaret Mitchell’s epic Civil War novel, “Gone With The Wind,” was a monumental undertaking – the biggest, most expensive production Hollywood had ever seen. But filming had hardly begun in the winter of 1939 when producer David O. Selznick suddenly fired the director, George Cukor, and shut production down. It seemed that Selznick was appalled at the initial scenes Cukor had shot. Those closest to the production blamed not the director but the script he was working with, which had been largely crafted (and repeatedly recrafted) by Selznick himself. A hyper-driven, insufferable micro-manager, Selznick meddled in every aspect of production, from the details of the costumes to the art direction and especially the screenplay, firing numerous screenwriters who could not come up with an adapation to his satisfaction, and often rewriting their work himself. (One of the writers he fired was F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose fragile confidence was so damaged by working with Selznick that he afterward entered a downward spiral of drinking and depression.)

Selznick replaced Cukor with Victor Fleming, who was in the middle of directing “The Wizard of Oz”; it was Fleming who had the nerve to tell Selznick that his script was no good (nobody had ever said that to the Boss before), which so surprised and rattled the producer that he called in his old friend Ben Hecht to do an emergency rewrite. Known sardonically as the “Shakespeare of Hollywood,” ex-newspaperman / prolific screenwriter Hecht (“The Front Page”) was working on a Marx Brothers film when he was suddenly called away: At dawn on Sunday, February 20, 1939, David Selznick and director Victor Fleming woke up Hecht to inform him he was on loan from MGM and they spirited him away to the studio to work on Gone with the Wind. It was costing Selznick $50,000 each day the film was on hold waiting for a final screenplay rewrite, and there was no time to waste. The episode that ensued behind closed doors is the basis for Ron Hutchinson’s uproarious comedy “Moonlight and Magnolias,” which opens WCT’s new season in September.

An engaging anecdotal account is described in an article in Atlantic Monthly, “The Making of Gone With The Wind,” by Gavin Lambert (March 1973)*, and by the writer himself in “Ben Hecht: A Biography,” quoted here: “[Hecht] said he hadn’t read the novel but Selznick and director Fleming could not wait for him to read it. They would act out scenes based on Sidney Howard’s original script which needed to be rewritten in a hurry. Hecht wrote, ‘After each scene had been performed and discussed, I sat down at the typewriter and wrote it out. Selznick and Fleming, eager to continue with their acting, kept hurrying me. We worked in this fashion for seven days, putting in eighteen to twenty hours a day. Selznick refused to let us eat lunch, arguing that food would slow us up. He provided bananas and salted peanuts….’” For Irish playwright Hutchinson (who is himself a successful Hollywood screenwriter) the comic potential in such an arrangement was too much to pass up, as he said in an interview (Ron Hutchinson, A Celebration by David G. Anderson): “…it struck me, wow—this is classical farce. Can you imagine? All the elements are there. Three high-powered individuals lock themselves in a room existing on peanuts and bananas, and they are ever mindful that the clock is ticking, in a total pressure cooker situation.”

Selznick’s obsession with minute production details also resonated with Hutchinson’s experience: “The people in the industry are way too worried about the costuming, scenery, casting, and staging. They will have all this in place and then realize, hey—we have to do something with the script. This mess is total garbage. Unfortunately, the script has become a complete after-thought, and there are millions of dollars at stake.” Nevertheless, “Moonlight and Magnolias,” he admits, “was really more of a celebration to correct the image of film’s golden age writers, directors, and producers than an indictment of Hollywood…. Selznick had everything on the line: his fortune, reputation, and his marriage.” At the end of that week in 1939, Hecht emerged from the pressure cooker, took his hefty writing fee, gathered what strength he had and ran for a train to take him home to Chicago. He refused to take credit for the massive fourhour screenplay; credit eventually went to Sidney Howard, along with an Academy Award. The episode seemed to be something he wanted to forget. But what happened in Selznick’s office is, in Hutchinson’s imagination, an hilarious, thought-provoking Hollywood tale of men fighting themselves (and each other) not just for survival but for a chance at immortality. As the playwright says: “Is there an abundance of crazy, driven, slightly off kilter people out here? Yes, and they all want to leave their indelible imprint on the precious celluloid.”

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Meet the Cast, Director and Stage Manager of “Moonlight and Magnolias”

"Moonlight and Magnolias" at Westport Community Theatre, September 16 – October 2

Cast, director and stage manager of "Moonlight and Magnolias"

A little more about our wonderful cast, director and stage manager of “Moonlight and Magnolias”:

John Bachelder – “Victor Fleming”
John is very happy to be back at WCT with this great cast and crew. Other Westport productions include:  Joe Cantwell in “The Best Man,” Col. Jessup in “A Few Good Men” and Sherlock Holmes in “Sherlock’s Last Case.” Other theater roles include: Mr. Lockhart in “The Seafarer,”  Teach in “American Buffalo.” Jake in “Jake’s Women”  and Allen in “Play it again Sam.”  John can also be seen in the movies, in “Greenmail” with Stephen Baldwin and Tom Skerritt, and “Benefit of the Doubt” with Donald Sutherland and Amy Irving. His favorite productions remain his two sons, Philip and Mickey, co-produced with his wife, Marilyn.

Bob Filipowich – “David O. Selznik”
Bob has a very vague memory of watching the burning of Atlanta while dressed in his pajamas, in the back of his parents Country Squire at a drive-in movie theater on Cape Cod many summers ago. Who knew he’d be reenacting scenes from this epic movie years later on the WCT stage? He is happy to be working on this production with such a wonderfully talented ensemble cast and awesome crew. Bob has appeared most recently on the WCT stage as John Stapleton in “The Hound of the Baskerville’s” Other recent credits include, Floyd Spinner in “Love, Sex and the IRS”, Bobby Carlye in “Postmortem” and Buddy in “Follies” all at The Powerhouse Theater in New Canaan. Other favorite roles he has performed in locally are, The Leading Player in “Pippin” and Vittorio Vidal in “Sweet Charity” at The Wilton Playshop and Harold Hill in “The Music Man” at Stamford’s Curtain Call Theater.

Cindy Hartog – “Miss Poppenghul”
Cindy Hartog is thrilled to be back on the stage at WCT, where she is a long-standing board member. She was last seen in WCT’s “Rumors,”  “Lend Me A Tenor,” and “Spider’s Web,” Eastbound’s “Brooklyn Boy,” and The Wilton Playshop’s “The Nerd.”  To WCT audiences, Cindy might be most famous for catering all the goodies for the opening night parties! Cindy is a graduate of The Institute of Culinary Education in NYC and classically trained in acting at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, The Williamstown Theatre Festival, and NYC’s Neighborhood Playhouse. In addition, she has a Masters in Educational Theatre from New York University. Merging her roles as real life chef, actor, and teacher,  Cindy is the owner of Cindy’s Sous Chefs, a company which teaches both children and adults the art of cooking, always sprinkled with a bit of the dramatic!  Cindy truly feels lucky to finally work with such a gifted and artistic director as Jessica Denes, a trio of such polished, professional, and talented actors, and a capable and caring pair of Producer and Stage Manager!

Rick Waln – “Ben Hecht”
Rick Waln finds himself once again lured into the pursuit of thespian glory. It was nine years ago that he appeared after an eighteen-year hiatus right here at WCT in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” Be forewarned: at this rate he may be coming your way again in 2015. Global stardom has thus far eluded him, but the older of those among you may recognize his face from any of the two hundred commercials he has made both in Los Angeles and New York. Truly dedicated fans can find him in reruns of “M*A*S*H,” “Barney Miller ” and “Married: With Children.” Whoever said, “You can’t go home again” didn’t check with Rick. He’s back and having a grand time thanks to all involved with “Moonlight and Magnolias.” One can only hope that it’s as much fun to watch the show as it was to prepare it.

Jessica Denes – Director
Jessica is thrilled to be once again working on the Westport stage!  For WCT she directed last season’s production of “Mixed Couples,” one of WCT’s most acclaimed productions,“Master Class,” and “Veronica’s Room.” Last spring she brought the gripping and provocative “Orange Flower Water” to the ETC stage. She has also directed for Eastbound Theatre, Crystal Theatre Company, and several other area stages. She is a member of the WCT Administrative Board. Jessica Denes has appeared for WCT in “Orson’s Shadow” and “A Murder Is Announced” (among others); she has also performed with Town Players of New Canaan, Eastbound Theatre, Wilton Playshop, and Crystal Theatre Company.

Robyn Mortiboys – Production Stage Manager
This is Robyn’s first production at WCT. She has recently been PSM for “Blithe Spirit,” directed by Scott Brill, and the staged reading of “A Woman Called God,” written by David Canary and directed by Maureen Maloney, both at the Wilton Playshop. After “Moonlight and Magnolias,” Robyn will be production stage manager for “Mrs. Warren’s Profession,” directed by Larry Schneider at the Ridgefield Theatre Barn this November.

 

 

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“Sabrina Fair” brings a smile to the audience – and cheers!

"Sabrina Fair' at Westport Community Theatre, June 3 – 19, 2011

Cast of "Sabrina Fair"

The news today is all good news about our current production, Sabrina Fair – an absolutely charming play with memorable performances from actors who are cast to perfection! The audiences for the first weekend of performances gave the most amazing feedback – in a nutshell, they loved it. And the actors. And the set. And did we mention the play? Tom Rushen is applauded for his excellent directorial eye.

Make no mistake about it, this is what we call an “ensemble” play as no matter the size of the role, every performance is excellent. We’ll start in this posting with three of the principal characters. Actors are always challenged when assuming roles that are widely identified with famous celebrities – it is inevitable that an audience member will remember a favorite film. And we’re proud to say that WCT has overcome that challenge three times this season with our productions of Enter Laughing, Angel Street (“Gaslight”) and now Sabrina Fair.

For Sabrina Fair, the challenge is even greater as it means two films etched into memory over five decades – and a very successful Broadway run. The character of Sabrina Fairchild was beloved, made memorable in film by Audrey Hepburn in the 1950s and then again in the 1990s by Julia Ormond – and yet on Broadway it was Margaret Sullavan’s performance that brought the attention of the world to a new play destined to be a hit.

We are so, so lucky to have Debra Hanusick create this wonderful role in the Westport Community Theatre production – audiences this first weekend have absolutely fallen in love with her. To quote an overused phrase, she has “made it her own” – she is beguiling and sweet, feisty and smart, impetuous and patient, in-depth and frivolous – and absolutely charming. If for no other reason, everyone should see this production to see Debra’s wonderful performance in her WCT debut.

Sabrina Fair, Westport Community Theatre, June 3 – 19, 2011

Sabrina Fairchild (Debra Hanusick) and Linus Larrabee (Jeff Pliskin) – sparks fly...

We are so pleased to have Jeff Pliskin return to WCT in the role of Linus Larrabee after a string of hit roles at Curtain Call Theatre in Stamford. His challenge was having no less than Humphrey Bogart and Harrison Ford precede him on film – and Jeff’s superb talent has brought Linus Larrabee to life so convincingly, so intelligently, so sophisticated, so debonair… Linus is a terribly complex role that requires the actor to assume a rich “inner life” and take the audience with him in this endearing story. Jeff has the audience from his first line to his last, and we heard audience members wishing there was more when the play ended. We  looked up the definition of “heartthrob”… and…

In this story there are two Larrabee brothers, Linus and David – and they are effectively polar opposites. David is somewhat of a ladies-man. He’s funny. Somewhat care-free. Maybe somewhat care-less… He’s sure of himself, in control and easily infatuated. We are very pleased to welcome Terry LaPolice to the WCT stage as David – an amazing actor who captures the heart and soul of David Larrabee, creating a different version of the character than William Holden or Greg Kinnear played. He shines in his scenes with Sabrina, goes head to head with Linus, is a sympathetic confidant of elder Larrabee family members – and is the epitome of the suave sophistication that the 1950s is so well known for. We looked up the definition of “playboy”… and…

"Sabrina Fair" at Westport Community Theatre, June 3 – 19, 2011

Sabrina Fairchild (Debra Hanusick) and David Larrabee (Terry LaPolice) – a childhood crush is revisited...

There is much more to follow this week – as previously mentioned, this is a cast of 14 equally talented actors. Based on the reaction to this first weekend, we encourage you to make your reservations early – performances are Thursday, June 9 at 8:00 PM (great after-work outing!), Fridays and Saturdays June 10, 11, 17 and 18 at 8:00 PM, and matinees Sundays June 12 and 19 at 2:00 PM. WCT Box Office is (203) 226-1983.

The cast includes Michelle Blau, Jessica Denes, Andrea Garmun, Debra Hanusick, Terry LaPolice, Manny Lieberman, Andrew Morris, Sue O’Hara, Jeff Pliskin, Brendan Quinn, Tara Reuter, Catherine Samose, Nik Shpilberg and Fred Tisch.

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Director Jessica Denes – “Mixed Couples,” opening April 8!

 

Mixed Couples

Director Jessica Denes (seated, left), cast and production staff of "Mixed Couples"

One of WCT’s favorite directors, Jessica Denes, has assembled some of Fairfield County’s most talented actors for her upcoming production of Mixed Couples, opening April 8. What makes this production special to Jessica is that she either performed with, or worked behind the scenes on the crew for, all five cast members – over 10 years ago, when she made her WCT debut in Agatha Christie’s A Murder is Announced, directed by Davina Porter.

Directing credits include one of WCT’s most memorable productions, Master Class, and Veronica’s Room. Last spring she brought the gripping and provocative Orange Flower Water to the ETC stage – audiences are still talking about this staged reading one year later. Directorial credits for Connecticut theaters include Love, Sex, and the I.R.S, The Secret Affairs of Mildred Wild, and Confessions of a Dirty Blonde at Eastbound Theatre; Summer Brave, Time & Time Again, The Other Side of Friendship, and Her Majesty Miss Jones for Crystal Theatre Company; and productions of Delicious Death & Other Desserts, Not Now Darling, and A Night of Shakespeare.

Directing is only one of Jessica’s accomplishments as she is also an extremely talented actress. WCT audiences were treated to great performances in the recent ETC staged reading of Collected Stories, in the memorable role of Joan Plowright in Orson’s Shadow, and in the aforementioned A Murder Is Announced. Jessica also has appeared in Cactus Flower as Toni Simmons at the Town Players of New Canaan; as Emily in Our Town at the Wilton Playshop; in Li’L Abner as Daisy Mae and as Bella in Lost in Yonkers at Crystal Theatre Company; and in “Boeing, Boeing” as Bertha at Eastbound Theatre. Jessica is a member of the WCT Administrative Board.

Mixed Couples – ready for opening night!

Read the rest of this entry »

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Set construction on “Mixed Couples” begins!

Construction is well-underway for our next production, the charming romantic comedy “Mixed Couples” by James Prideaux, directed by one of our favorite directors, Jessica Denes. We are so pleased to have Raymond Stephens return to WCT, this time in the role of Set Designer – and quite the job he has undertaken as “Mixed Couples” is set in an airplane hanger circa late 1920s! Ray is an extraordinary friend to WCT, and excellent manager of all things and people helping to get this job done!

We thought everyone might like to take a look at some of the earliest steps – Ray has advised:

We have started repainting the set.

The flats, soon to become the hangar doors, are being painted and dressed.
The hangar girders have been fabricated.
With help from:
Lisa Mellott
Bill Mellott
Ian Lander
Beth Flavin
Bob Laspogarto
More updates to follow!

The stage and seats are well protected in this early stage of construction –

Set construction for "Mixed Couples" at Westport Community Theatre

What you don't often see – the view "behind-the-flats"...

Set construction begins for "Mixed Couples" at Westport Community Theatre, April 8 – 24

In case you don't recognize this, it's the staircase that leads from the dressing room to the theatre – an impromptu workbench!

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