David O. Selznick, played by Walter May, envisions a scene from Gone with the Wind as Victor Fleming, played by Eric Johnson, looks on in Ron Hutchinson's Moonlight and Magnolias. Copyrighted photo by Rich Copley | LexGo.
The last time Walter May was on stage for Actors Guild of Lexington, it was the theater’s 2004 production of the three-man play Art.
And his last stand at AGL before that was in 2000 for Alfred Uhry’s The Last Night of Ballyhoo, set in Atlanta during the world premiere of Gone With the Wind.
“This time, we just thought we’d put the three-man show and Gone With the Wind together,” May says, settling down for a chat before a dress rehearsal for Moonlight and Magnolias, Ron Hutchinson’s play about how the Gone With the Wind script was written. It opened last weekend at the Downtown Arts Center.
In the play, which is based on a real story, producer David O. Selznick locks himself, director Victor Fleming and writer Ben Hecht in his office. There, during a tense and comical five days, the trio hammers out the script for the film some still consider the greatest American movie ever made.
Despite the coincidences, May says it wasn’t the three-men angle, Gone With the Wind or the fact that it’s another leap year that brought him back to AGL. It was a call from the theater’s artistic director, Richard St. Peter, who was in a bind after actor Roger Leasor had to withdraw from the production to attend to obligations at his day job as president of Liquor Barn.
That brought May back to the stage as Selznick, the producer who has to convince his writer and director they have a hit on their hands, if they don’t mess it up.
“He’s manic, creative and driven,” May says.
Manic may not apply to his stage work, but creative and driven do.
May is one of Lexington’s handful of actors who are members of Actors Equity, the professional stage actor’s union.
He earned his Equity card spending several summers at Kentucky Repertory Theatre in Horse Cave, acting in productions that helped him earn credits toward his union membership. At the time, Actors Guild did not have an Equity affiliation, though the theater has since started offering Equity guest artist contracts, under which both May and Charles Edward Pogue, who is playing Hecht, are performing.
“I’ll be the first person to tell you being Equity does not automatically make you a better actor,” says May, who with his role in Art was the first Equity actor to perform at AGL under a guest contract. “But it’s a real kick to be able to work here as an Equity actor. It’s a change that’s time has come.”
Before Actors Guild started its relationship with
Equity, in 2004, Lexington actors who belonged to the union technically
had no local venue where they were permitted to perform without
skirting Equity rules.
Despite being a card-carrying actor, a lot of May’s theatrical labor of late has been directed toward the page. Moonlight and Magnolias actually coincided with a staged reading of his latest play, Gone Astray, which was inspired by the biblical parable of the prodigal son. It was rolled out Saturday at Kentucky Rep.
“I’m doing it for myself, as much as anyone,” May says. “The chances of having a fully-realized production of a play is remote, but I enjoy the challenge and the outlet.”
May actually did have one of his scripts, Measure of Respect, produced by Actors Guild in 1987, and the theater hosted a staged reading of his play Watershed in 2005.
In his writing, May, who is an attorney by day, has even dealt with some issues he’s encountered in his work with the Hope Center, a Lexington homeless shelter.
“It drew on some of what I know about homelessness and the issues that cause it,” May says of his that script, which was also read at Kentucky Rep.
Writing has also given May a bit more insight into the process of writing the script for Gone With the Wind. May says it has been particularly amusing to hear Pogue, a screenwriter whose credits include Dragonheart (1996), talk about the actual process of writing, as well as just getting together with Pogue on stage for the first time since 1972, when they were both students at the University of Kentucky.
May quips, “We were saying we need to get together in a show every 36 years.”
Just so happens, 2044 will be another leap year, too.