I'm going to be honest with you: when the days came closer to January 7th, the first preview night and world premiere of Gone With the Wind by Niki Landau, I vaguely considered switching my tickets for an RMTC show to a later date. I had no problem with the three-and-a-half-hour long running time - last season's August: Osage County was approximately the same length - but I was expecting, worst case scenario, that there would be three hours of performance and half an hour of glitches. I should have known better; RMTC's productions have grown more and more accomplished over the past six seasons.
Gone With the Wind is practically flawless - sets, costumes and acting included. It's smart, witty and romantic. It transports the audience to Civil War Georgia and is everything I love about theatre.
Landau's script solves all of the problems with both the novel and the Hollywood film; perhaps most significantly, the near-racist portrayal of African-American characters in Mitchell's book has been dealt with in a completely original and satisfactory manner. The basic elements of the film, with its tendency towards caricature and implausible casting, have also been retooled. Let's face it: given Vivien Leigh's difficulties - both physical and marital - during filming, the idea of her portraying a strong Southern woman was absurd. Similarly, Clark Gable was never quite successful as Rhett Butler. All of this made easy ammunition for Carol Burnett's legendary and painfully spot-on TV parody Went With the Wind.
RMTC's Gone With the Wind, on the other hand, is bulletproof. Bethany Jillard makes Scarlett both sympathetic and realistic; the actress and the playwright are not afraid to explore the less admirable aspects of Miss O'Hara's personality. This Scarlett O'Hara is by no means afraid to "lie, cheat, steal and murder," as she declares at the end of Act I and makes clear in Act II. Tom McCamus gives Rhett Butler the nuanced portrayal the character has always deserved, and McCamus's lionine appearance makes Butler far more rugged, handsome and physically imposing than Gable ever was.
The cast is uniformly excellent. Mammy (Miche Braden) and Melanie Wilkes (Sarah Constible), both infamously one-dimensional characters in the film adaptation, are genuine human beings here. Braden gives one of the best supporting performances of the 2012/13 season, and her speech prior to leaving Scarlett in Act III made more than one audience member's eyes fill with tears. Miriam Smith does a wonderful job as Scarlett's nervewracked aunt Miss Pittypat and Terri Cherniak is formidable as the hypocritical Miss Merriweather.
L-R: Sarah Constible (Melanie), Jennifer Dzialoszynski (Carreen) and Kate Besworth (Suellan O'Hara). All photos are by Bruce Monk from the RMTC website.
The sets are incredible and the wardrobe is impressive; Jillard wears at least ten, maybe even fifteen different outfits during the production, each of her gowns fit for a real Atlanta charity ball. Epic history and personal struggle come together in a play that captivates us with its emotional intensity; miraculously, the three-and-a-half-hour show seems not a minute too long.
If there's one play you see this season, make it this one.