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Monday, January 14, 2013

And now for something a little different: A review of 'Gone with the Wind' by MTC

We splurged on some good seats.

We got there early.

We were excited.
And in return we were given three hours and five minutes of exactly what we came for -- an enchanting evening of theatre with the premiere of an adaptation of one of the world's most famous novels, Gone With the Wind.

We left MTC with goofy smiles on our faces. Yes, we were the ones with the goofy smiles Saturday night. We were thoroughly entertained.

Make no mistake---this is a work in progress. But why review what isn't there when what is there is captivating on its own. The entire Gone With the Wind story is there -- from the glory days of the Old South to the horrors of the Civil War, including the burning of Atlanta, to the upheaval of the Reconstruction. And Scarlett, bewitching and cunning Scarlett O'Hara, destined to be one of the great Stage Noir temptresses.

It's not story that makes theatre; it's the actors. Gone With the Wind begins and ends with Scarlett O'Hara, and it's Bethany Jillard who brings Scarlett to life. Jillard owns Scarlett O'Hara. She dares any actress in the country to come and take the role from her.

Playwright Niki Landau needed to relax and trust Jillard to do her job. There are a few scenes where the writer hammers home the message (women can do as good a job as men but have to act dumb to get a man) with the subtlety of a jackhammer. Jillard's Scarlett does the same with her venomous charm and spine of iron, when necessary.

And what about that infamous bad boy Rhett Butler? Well, if Clark Gable was alive and Canadian he would be Tom McCamus. Another reviewer referred to McCamus's "languid delivery", but he should have consulted his dictionary first. Languid is defined as listless, without spirit, vigor or vitality. Rhett Butler lacking spirit? Hardly.

McCamus is every inch the Southern lothario, dominating a room with his presence, supremely confident in what he wants and that he will get it, especially when his goal is a woman; so sure of himself he's unfazed by society's scorn for his "reputation". He ruined a girl, you know. And now he wants Scarlett. And he takes her.

He sweeps her up and literally carries her up the stairs to his bedroom. No camera tricks here. And when she breaks his heart, he utters those famous last words. You come expecting a great love story? Well, it's here.

The rest of the cast has its share of standouts. William Vickers as Scarlett's daddy Gerald O'Hara, Miriam Smith as the gossip Miss Pittypat, and Miche Braden as Mammy, the only major role for a black actor in this version of the story set in the Deep South.

MTC (we still think the Royal before MTC is pretentious) spared no expense on sets, that's for sure. We go smoothly from Tara, the plantation owned by Scarlett's father, to Rhett Butler's two-storey house, to the streets of Atlanta. We stand in the field as Scarlett proclaims "As God is my witness, I'll never go hungry." And on the outskirts of town as Atlanta burns and the South loses the war. This play moves.

As we said earlier, Gone With the Wind, is unfinished. It's a hard lesson for MTC. A commission of this size needs a full-time playwright. Writer Landau ran a theatre school, raised a child, and fulfilled other acting commitments during the nearly four years between getting the go-ahead and the first show of the run.

That she managed to condense the one thousand-pages-plus of the novel into a three-hour production is a marvel. Her work is not done. That's still no excuse not to see this production. That's the exciting part of theatre -- to see a major play take shape. Imagine the first run of The Phantom of the Opera. Oops, I thought you were holding the chandelier. Look out below!

This first run of Gone With the Wind is a treat for fans of the book and the movie, or just fans of good acting. We can hardly wait to compare it to Gone With the Wind 2.0

We're getting those goofy smiles just thinking about it.

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