So what really happened behind closed doors when script doctor Ben Hecht was hired to overhaul the screenplay of Gone With the Wind in February 1939?

The play Moonlight and Magnolias at Coach House Theatre is a fictional, behind-the scenes account of a true event, when production of the epic was derailed after legendary Hollywood producer David O. Selznick fired director George Cukor just three weeks into filming. It was a desperate time for the movie, with Victor Fleming pulled from The Wizard of Oz to replace Cukor, and Hecht brought in to save an overly long script based on the more than 1,000-page novel by Margaret Mitchell.

The fascinating part? These three men saved the screenplay in just five days, with around-the-clock work that amounted to a marathon creative session.

At Coach House, Cassandra Capocci directs a five-person cast including Nathan Jarosz as Selznick, who looks so boyish, it’s hard to believe at first his character is a legendary movie mogul. (Selznick was actually 36 at the time of this story, but we’ll go with it.) Jarosz’s character is bubbling with energy rather than seeming stressed out as Selznick literally locks the other two men in his Hollywood office for five straight days.

They subsist on only bananas and peanuts, brought in by beleaguered secretary Miss Poppenguhl (played with a few too many pauses for effect by Jenny Hoppes). One would hope the details of that diet are just creative license by Irish playwright Ron Hutchinson, that Selznick didn’t really torture these two movie pros that badly. But on the Coach House stage, it’s fun to see the peanut shells and banana peels strewn across the floor as these men nearly go mad trying to meet their deadline.

Work in progress

Seasoned actor Russell Kunz plays Hecht, the revered script doctor who may be the only person in the nation who hasn’t read Mitchell’s famous novel. Kunz illuminates some of the weightiness of this 2004 play when he objects to the story’s flawed heroine, saying Scarlett’s questionable moral character will not fly with audiences.

But Selznick is hell-bent on taking the ultimate risk by filming a revised script. And Fleming, played with a sort of posh flippancy by Jason Mravec, is on board.

It’s fun to hear numerous quips about Clark Gable. And you feel like a bit of an insider when Miss Poppenguhl reports that a worried Vivien Leigh has called to ask if she can return to England since production has halted.

This play, which runs two hours with intermission, has very little action and is steeped in tons of zippy dialogue. At Sunday’s performance, Jarosz and Mravec stepped on each other’s lines repeatedly and Kunz had to be fed one line. Those moments made it feel like this very talky show needed some more work.

Hollywood to Akron

The standoffs between Kunz and Mravec’s adversarial characters create tension. And in one of the most interesting scenes, the three men go through an extended exercise to decide just how Scarlett, at her wits’ end having to deliver Melanie’s baby, will slap young house servant Prissy in a seminal moment from the film. These men make it clear that they know they’re walking a very fine line as to what audiences may accept.

The play is classified as a Hollywood farce or slapstick comedy, but the performance comes off as more serious at Coach House. Some of Moonlight and Magnolias’ most lasting impressions come from the debates the men have about the movie’s portrayal of slavery as well as numerous references to anti-Semitism in 1939 Hollywood, where Jews working in the business had emigrated after fleeing Nazi Europe.

Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or kclawson@thebeaconjournal.com. Like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/kclawsonabj or follow her on Twitter @KerryClawsonABJ.