Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Steel Magnolias

The 2013 season at Cumberland County Playhouse opened up on Saturday with a lovely production of the well-known Steel Magnolias. Most people know the movie starring Julia Roberts, Sally Fields, and Dolly Parton. In a way, it’s become a rite of passage for young women in the South to watch the movie at least once. But many don’t know that it was a play first.

Set in Louisiana in the early 80s, Steel Magnolias tells the story of six women who meet each Saturday at the neighborhood beauty shop. With varying ages, it’s fun to see the inner workings of their friendships. In the rare event that someone reads this that hasn’t actually seen the movie or the stage version, be prepared for tears. In fact, throughout the final scene of the play I would say there were very few dry eyes. I heard too many sniffles in the audience to lead me to believe otherwise.

This particular production was directed by Donald Fann in the Adventure Theatre. Set design was spectacular, as always. John Partyka’s design took you right back to the 80s in a garage beauty shop in the South. Heck, some of the garage beauty shops I’ve seen still look like that.

I’ve always seen the character of Truvy as the glue that holds their little group together. Lauren Marshall played the role in such a way that it never even crossed my mind that someone else should be playing the role, which so often happens when a role is made famous by an actor the likes of Dolly Parton (or Delta Burke, whom I saw play the role on Broadway a few years ago). Lauren Marshall gives her own spin to the role, and you can’t help but love the way she cares for all the characters no matter their annoying or less desirable personality traits.

A newbie to town, Annelle is played by CCP “newbie” Anna Baker. I love Annelle and the changes she goes through in the show. Annelle’s innocence and awkwardness is endearing and Baker gives the role a great believability and enough humor that you can’t help but laugh at her and love her simultaneously. Kind of like a new puppy learning how to walk without tripping over its own paws.

Taken from CCP's facebook page
Ouiser and Clariee are a hysterical pair in every respect. Friends (we think) for years, they are in so many ways like The Odd Couple. Clairee’s husband has recently passed and she is looking for something to keep her busy. Ouiser likes to play a bitter old woman, but deep down she’s got a heart. Patty Payne played the role of Ouiser, and Carol Irvin played Clariee. Both are CCP regulars, and when I first heard that they were going to be in Steel Magnolias, I thought they might be playing roles in the opposite way. For some reason, I saw Patty as Clariee and Ouiser played by Carol. That being said, they really outdid themselves in the roles they were given. I LOVED seeing Patty Payne playing grouchy, old Ouiser. Carol Irvin was fantastic as more personable Clariee.  

The relationship that is always the most interesting to me is that of Shelby and her mother M’Lynn. This comes from the fact that I have Type 1 diabetes, like the character Shelby (*quick disclaimer & spoiler, having a baby if you have diabetes will NOT cause you to die. For more information about diabetes & my life with diabetes, you can check out my other blog, Every Day, Every Hour, Every Minute).

Shelby was played by Lindy Pendzick, while Weslie Webster took on the role of M’Lynn. Shelby and M’Lynn have a tumultuous relationship. It’s obvious they love each other, but they seem to disagree on almost everything. Much like most mother’s M’Lynn wants what’s best for her child. Shelby just wants to live her life to the fullest possible extent, in spite of her health issues.

Webster’s M’Lynn was tortured in so many ways. You could see her desire to protect and yet let go of her daughter conflicting on her face in nearly every scene. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for a mother to let their child go when for so many years she was the person keeping her child alive by being the caregiver for Shelby’s diabetes. Shelby is in an impossible situation. She wants children. She wants a life. She wants her mother’s support. Her health has always been in the way of these things and she wants them anyway. Shelby goes after the things she wants even though she’s been advised not to.

Lindy Pendzick gives Shelby a playful lilt. She takes Shelby and makes her somewhat silly. I like this part of the character. It was a strange thing for me though, because I can’t help but wonder how tortured Shelby would have been about her decisions as well. Sometimes I felt like Pendzick’s Shelby didn’t take things as seriously as her mother. Perhaps it’s my own overthinking, being a person with diabetes myself.

Like, I said, I liked Lindy Pendzick’s take on Shelby. I just wonder if that’s how I would have reacted in Shelby’s place. One of things that Lindy always does well is the silly little comedic one liners and the facial expressions that go with them. She’s a hoot.

I’ve seen Steel Magnolias on stage several times (including Broadway), and I’ve seen both versions of the movie. This production at CCP is worth going to see. If you have a heart at all, you might even shed a few tears. It would be great for a “girls only” fun day. You could try to drag your significant other to it, but if it’s a guy… well, he might not be as impressed as I was. ;)

Steel Magnolias runs at Cumberland County Playhouse thru March 29th. You can purchase tickets online by clicking HERE, or by calling 931-484-5000. And if you Tweet, check out CCP’s account @CCPlayhouse.

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