Dwayne Palmer (with book), Terry Erbe and Roberto Guajardo in Invisible Theatre's "Moonlight and Magnolias." PHOTO BY TIM FULLER / COURTESY INVISIBLE THEATRE

No one really knows what happened when Hollywood producer David O. Selznick holed up in his studio for five days in 1939 and reworked the script for "Gone With the Wind" with writer Ben Hecht and director Victor Fleming.

But in Ron Hutchinson's very funny play "Moonlight and Magnolias," which Invisible Theatre opened Wednesday, the three men experience something akin to an awakening. Outsized egos made way for even larger insecurities as each of the men realized they were one box-office flop away from losing their Hollywood happy ending.

That's the conceit of Hutchinson's tale, that beneath the normally cool and collected veneer of these Hollywood power brokers is a palpable fear of failure. But Hutchinson imagines there's more laughter than tears as Selznick (convincingly and comically played by Dwayne Palmer) and Fleming (given a schleppy dressing down by Terry Erbe) acted out scenes from Margaret Mitchell's landmark novel for Hecht (performed with dry wit by Roberto Guajardo), who had never read the book.

"Never read the book?" Palmer deadpans with an incredulous tone in the opening scene as Guajardo, slumped in an easy chair, proclaims "No."

The situation on the surface sees dire and depressing, until you hear the characters spitting out insults and barbs.

Director Betsy Kruse Craig's ramped up the humor with dialogue delivered in rapid fire and physical exchanges by Palmer and Erbe as they acted out the scenes for Guajardo's on-the-verge-of-bumbling Hecht.

Palmer and Erbe could easily have overacted those scenes. Instead, Palmer brought to his impression of Scarlett O'Hara a deliciously funny feminism and exaggerated Southern twang while Erbe delivered an over-the-top Melanie in the throes of childbirth.

Hecht is a hard character to nail, but Guajardo convincingly conveyed him in all his shades: Ignorant and naive of what he's doing, asking at one point if the movie had to be set in the Civil War; yet driven by his convictions that Selznick and Hollywood in general have the power to make changes through films that force Americans to put a mirror up to themselves.

One of the unsung heroes of Hutchinson's play is the beleaguered secretary Miss Poppenghul, whose role is mainly to yes-sir, no-sir to Selznick. With delicious physical gestures and fabulously funny facial expressions, Victoria McGee's Miss Poppenghul was a delight.


"Moonlight and Magnolias"

• Presented by: The Invisible Theatre.

• Playwright: Ron Hutchinson.

• Director: Betsy Kruse Craig.

• When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 3 p.m. Sundays, through Oct. 3.

• Where: The Invisible Theatre, 1400 N. First Ave.

• Tickets: $25.

• Information, reservations: 882-9721.

• Running time: Two hours, with one intermission.

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at cburch@azstarnet.com or 573-4642. The Star's regular theater reviewer, Kathleen Allen, did not review this play because she is married to one of the actors.