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.
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.
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.
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