STEEL MAGNOLIAS Entertaining as Ever at Mainstage

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The women  of STEEL MAGNOLIAS: Noel Davis(Miss Clairee), Sue Dunigan (Ouiser), Christina Forshey (Annelle), Debra Faye (Truvy), and Casey WIlliams-Facarra (Shelby). (Photo credit: Dave Gruen)

The women of STEEL MAGNOLIAS: Noel Davis(Miss Clairee), Sue Dunigan (Ouiser), Christina Forshey (Annelle), Debra Faye (Truvy), and Casey WIlliams-Facarra (Shelby). (Photo credit: Dave Gruen)

Don’t get me wrong I enjoyed the show. Most of us who attend theatre regularly don’t distinguish between “chick” and “non-chick” plays, right? So, that’s why I haven’t seen the movie. I found Mainstage Center for the Arts’ production to be quite entertaining. It made me smile, chuckle, and in the end, it very nearly made me cry. In the words of one of STEEL MAGNOLIAS’ characters, Truvy, who says, “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.”

STEEL MAGNOLIAS is a comedy-drama (I actually found more emphasis on the comedy) which is probably a good thing, since its playwright, Robert Harling wrote this play as a way of coping with the death of his younger sister, a diabetic.

Harling’s play, first produced in 1987, is still as popular today as it was then. I can’t remember a theatre season when there wasn’t one production playing in one of the 90 plus theatres here. The quotes and one-liners are all over the internet. Soon after it became a successful play it became a successful film, plans were made for two series, one white, one African-American.

The six characters “suggest the female characters are as delicate as magnolias but tough as steel.” The action takes place in Truvy’s Beauty Parlor and involves Annelle, a newcomer in town, and the women who come into the parlor regularly: Claree, Ouiser, M’Lynn and Shelby. The play begins on the Shelby’s wedding day. Shelby, of course, represents Harling’s sister, the others become the support group, that not only supports her but each other. That’s as far as I’ll go without giving away the whole plot. Let me assure you if you haven’t seen the play already, this production is full of laughs and interesting characters, and you’ll be guaranteed a good time.

Catherine Fichera and Christina Forshey in STEEL MAGNOLIAS at Mainstage Center for the Arts. (Photo credit: Dave Gruen)

Catherine Fichera and Christina Forshey in STEEL MAGNOLIAS at Mainstage Center for the Arts. (Photo credit: Dave Gruen)

Now, I’m not saying the performance was perfect. This is community theatre, where things happen. It was opening night. Tomorrow night some things won’t happen, so why mention them?

There was some movement I think that could have been that could have been blocked or motivated better. Ouiser seemed to wander about a lot. Clairee spent a lot of time upstairs barely seen then suddenly came down just in time as someone else entered. It seemed “staged.” I tend to block organically, which means my actors come up with the motivation before they move. Director’s choice.

There were some standout performances I’d like to recognize in no particular order. I was very impressed with Christina Forshey’s performance as “Annelle,” especially with her transformation from shy newcomer to born-again Christian. Casey Williams-Ficarra was perfect as “Shelby.” Debra M. Faye was outstanding as “Truvy.” She was the glue holding all this together. And, Catherine Fichera as “M’Lynn” gave a memorable gut-wrenching performance, especially in the last act.

Overall, accents could have been stronger. Personally, I’m not a nitpicker when it comes to dialects unless they truly matter. Here I think, while a Louisiana accent is preferred, any southern dialect will work as long as it’s consistent. Sound seemed to be a problem this opening night that can be fixed with adjustments to the mics. There was a lot of mic popping going on. Too much to ignore.

Debra Faye and Casey Williams-Facarra in a scene from STEEL MAGNOLIAS. (Photo credit: Dave Gruen)

Debra Faye and Casey Williams-Facarra in a scene from STEEL MAGNOLIAS. (Photo credit: Dave Gruen)

Finally, the set design bothered me… In real life, my barber shop is arranged pretty much like the “beauty shop” set, but the barbers are facing away from the raised sofa so that area is open. Obviously, it’s too late now, but maybe a similar design, eliminating the middle chair and moving the action to the center platform more center, would have made it easier for the audience to see the action. As it was, it was difficult.

Despite what I have said in the negative, please keep in mind that the Mainstage Center for the Arts’ production of STEEL MAGNOLIAS was fine and entertaining. It wasn’t flawless, but it was fun. The play itself is a winner. The director, cast and crew worked hard and it showed.

STEEL MAGNOLIAS
Written by Robert Harling
Directed by Brad Cain
April 26 & 27 at 7:30 pm
April 28 at 2:00 pm
Mainstage Center for the Arts
at Dennis Flyer Theatre
Camden County College
Office: 856-232-1012
Tickets: 856-302-6485
Blackwood, NJ
http://mainstage.org/

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Jack Shaw

Jack Shaw

Jack has directed such plays as HARVEY, LOVERS AND OTHER STRANGERS, ROMANTIC COMEDY, BLITHE SPIRIT, CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, and CREATION OF THE WORLD AND OTHER BUSINESS; and acted in various Regional theaters throughout the country. His professional musical theater experience includes such roles as Nathan in GUYS AND DOLLS, Perchik in FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, Mordred in CAMELOT, and Ice in WEST SIDE STORY. He has performed as Touchstone in AS YOU LIKE IT and Prince/Chorus in ROMEO AND JULIET in Shakespeare summer stock, toured as Tom in THE GLASS MENAGERIE with The National Deaf Theatre Company. As a staff commercial announcer in radio and television he has done hundreds of regional commercials as well as many national and some international spots for the U.S. Air Force. If he is acting, he likes to play bad guys—like the Nazi officer in NUMBER THE STARS. If he is directing, he likes straight plays as opposed to musicals. He recently played Candy in OF MICE AND MEN and Tony Abbott in HEAVEN CAN WAIT. Before that, the abusive dad in THE BOYS NEXT DOOR and an old fool in PLAY ON! He is a steady reviewer for STAGE Magazine, while he continues to write several articles a week for various blogs, including Shaw’s Reality. He has published two books on theatre, one on training and development, and a novel, In Makr’s Shadow. He teaches English, speech and drama part-time as a visiting professor or adjunct instructor for local colleges and universities.

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