“Steel Magnolias” is a Comedy/Drama that examines the events that took place over a two-year period in the lives of six women, set in a beauty shop, located in the fictional small town of Chinquapin, La.
The play’s underlying themes are the importance of family and the value of friendship. The true meanings of these themes are seen through the challenges these six women faced, such as abandonment, marriage, pregnancy, childbirth, sickness and death.
The six women in the play come from very different backgrounds and are all varying in age. Yet, on Saturday mornings in that beauty shop, even Annelle, who was young, timid and cared about everyone, and Ouiser, who was a senior citizen that was very outspoken and a curmudgeon to boot, came together as friends.
Playwright Robert Harling wrote “Steel Magnolias” based on true events that happened in his life. His sister Susan was a Type 1 diabetic. She died after going into a diabetic coma, leaving behind a young son.
“Steel Magnolias” was the first play to be included in an experiment, conducted by Masquerade Theatre’s board of directors and designed to bring new younger blood into the director’s role.
Linda StClair, Masquerade Theatre board member and “Steel Magnolias” executive director, headed up the experiment that focused on the mentoring of a new generation of directors.
This new generation of directors included Jonathan Johnson, director of the “Steel Magnolias” Bashful cast and UTM alumnus, and Brian Johnson, director of the “Steel Magnolias” Blush cast and UTM Lecturer of Psychology. Keri Benthal, assistant director for the Bashful cast was also included in the experiment.
Each director approached the play from a different angle and guided their individual casts within the direction of their vision.
Jonathan Johnson, who directed the Bashful Cast took a more modern, edgy approach to the play.
One scene where this more edgy direction was noticeable was when Truvy asked Ouiser if she and Owen were sexually involved. The lines themselves alluded to this, but were not explicit in any way. Johnson chose to have Truvy make the meaning of her question, which was along the lines of, “Ouiser are you and Owen, you know?” clearer by making a gesture with her body mimicking the sex act. This was not overly done, but it was quite unexpected and definitely gave the play a more modern feel.
The overall blocking and staging flowed very well in the Bashful Cast.
Anna Oliver, who has had many roles on the stage even though she is only 13-years-old, gave a remarkably dramatic and completely believable performance as Annelle Dupuy-DeSoto, as a young woman who was both extremely religious and very pregnant, in the Bashful Cast. The dramatic way that she dropped to her knees to pray and the way that she precariously sat down while portraying a very pregnant woman were marvelous.
Sacchi Doss, who played Clairee Belcher in the Bashful Cast, was completely believable and comfortable in the role of the sophisticated but sassy ex-Mayor’s wife.
Linda Simrell, who played M’Lynn Eatenton in the Bashful Cast, appeared on stage for the first time ever and gave a very deadpan performance throughout most of the play. When she finally showed some emotion towards the end of the play, when her daughter had just died, it was just not believable. She seemed very detached from everyone around her and kept butchering her lines.
Jan Kizer, who played Ouiser Boudreaux in the Bashful Cast, gave her debut performance on stage and completely epitomized the wealthy, sassy and cranky curmudgeon. When she turned towards the audience, pumped her fists in the air and yelled, “Kill Rhett, Kill!” the audience’s laughter was almost deafening. Kizer may have just found her true calling.
UTM alumnus Maggie Olmstead, who played Shelby Eatenton-Latcherie in the Bashful Cast, gave a truly moving performance of a woman experiencing a diabetic episode. Considering the lack of feedback that Olmstead received in some of her scenes, she did an amazing job.
Sharmin Moss, who played Truvy Jones in the Bashful Cast, portrayed the spunky and inquisitive beautician.
Johnson did a wonderful job with the Bashful Cast direction. The Bashful Cast gave an enjoyable performance. Masquerade Theatre has definitely drawn new director’s blood to their stage with Jonathan Johnson.
Brian Johnson who directed the Blush Cast took a more traditional approach to the play. The characters were still portrayed with all their wonderful quirks and differences, but they presented them in a slightly softer way than the Bashful Cast.
Although completely different than the Bashful Cast’s, the blocking and staging in the Blush Cast also flowed very well; however, there was one minor inconsistency concerning props.
Clairee continually walked around holding her purse in the beauty shop. This behavior made her appear as though she was either nervous or that she just didn’t trust the others enough to put it down. Taking into consideration that she went there every week, it did not come across as believable.
Macy Thompson played Annelle Dupuy-DeSoto in the Blush Cast. This was only 18-year-old Thompson’s second time on the stage. She gave a wonderful performance of a very shy and timid young woman; however, at one point, she did demonstrate her dramatic capabilities when she got in M’Lynn’s face and shook her out of desperation and fear for her safety. She showed great promise.
Jenny Gilliland who played Clairee Belcher in the Blush Cast was quite funny at times; however, her unbelievable behavior concerning her purse was slightly distracting.
UTM alumnus Lori Suiter, who played M’Lynn Eatenton for the Blush Cast, portrayed the ever-loving and devoted mother perfectly. At the end of the play, when her daughter had just died, she made the audience feel her pain along with her.
Connie Norman played Ouiser Boudreaux in the Blush Cast. This was Norman’s first time on the stage. She gave a wonderful performance as a crotchety, old busybody and showed remarkable promise.
Stephanie McClanahan, who played Shelby Eatenton-Latcherie in the Blush Cast, epitomized the beautiful, popular and southern young woman.
UTM alumnus Catherine Nailling, who played Truvy Jones in the Blush Cast, personified the loving but meddlesome small town glamour technician.
Johnson did a wonderful job with the Blush Cast direction. The Blush Cast gave an incredible performance that did not leave many in the audience with a dry eye. Masquerade Theatre has definitely drawn new director’s blood to their stage with Brian Johnson.
If all Masquerade Theatre’s future experiments produce the same type of results, Masquerade Theatre patrons can look forward to a wonderful theater experience for many years to come.
Masquerade Theatre 2012 Performances
“Annie” a Musical by Thomas Meehan
7:30 p.m. Nov. 23, 24, 30 and Dec. 1, 7, 8
2 p.m. Nov. 25 and Dec. 2, 9
For more information visit Masquerade Theatre’s web site at www.ucmasqueradetheatre.com