Play Review: Steel Magnolias

The highlight of last night’s girls’ night out was the viewing of the play Steel Magnolias at Joplin Little Theater. Seven of us…my mom, my two sisters, and my daughters and daughter-in-law…sat in the darkened theater for the sold out performance. The play presents the timeless story of “six characters as delicate as magnolias but as tough as steel.”

The Joplin production of Steel Magnolias stars Shanti Navarre, Abbi Epperson, Ann Grace Lile, Ashley Trotnic, Diane Martinous and Lisa Olliges Green. Tegan Whited directed. The play was written by Robert Harling and was originally produced by the WPA Theatre, New York City, in 1987.

The setting for Steel Magnolias is Chinquapin, Louisiana, 1986 – 1987, with all scenes taking place in the salon of Truvy Jones (Navarre). Truvy has just hired young Annelle (Epperson), a new girl in town whose husband has abandoned her.

Annelle (Abbi Epperson) in Steel Magnolias. Photo from Joplin Little Theater Facebook page.

Truvy’s beauty shop is the gathering place every Saturday morning for a group of long time friends. Clairee (Lile), Ouiser (Olliges Green), M’Lynn (Martinous) and M’Lynn’s daughter Shelby (Trotnic) drift in and out of the salon, getting their hair and nails done by Truvy or Annelle as they share life experiences.

Shelby is currently the center of the group’s attention. The play opens on the day of her wedding and as the mother and daughter are getting their hair put up and nails painted, we learn that there is tension between them. Shelby has diabetes. M’Lynn is very protective of her daughter’s health, encouraging Shelby to drink orange juice when her blood sugar drops and sharing with the group of friends that the doctors have advised Shelby that pregnancy poses a grave risk.

During Scene 1 we are also given some backstory on each of the other characters. Truvy runs a successful business, providing excellent salon services to the ladies of Chinquapin. Annelle is starting her life over after a failed marriage. Clairee has recently become a widow and she is learning to live alone while rediscovering who she is and what she wants to do. M’Lynn has an emotionally charged marriage and two sons younger than Shelby. And Ouiser is the most outspoken member of the circle of friends, claiming she has been in a bad mood for decades.

Scene 2 begins just before Christmas, 1986. Shelby, who has been married since the spring, surprises her mother with a trip home, and big news. Against all odds, and the doctors’ advice, she is pregnant. M’Lynn is less than thrilled. Her concern is for Shelby’s health and well being. Shelby, however, remains optimistic about delivering a healthy baby.

During Scene 3, which takes place in June of 1987, Shelby and her mother reveal to the group of friends that her fragile health is failing. Although Shelby gave birth three months prematurely, her baby boy is healthy and thriving. Shelby is experiencing kidney failure and has begun dialysis. Her only hope for continued good health is a kidney transplant. M’Lynn is the closest match available for her daughter. The surgery is scheduled for the next day, much to the shock of the friends. M’Lynn explains that she feels honored to have given life to her daughter twice.

The final scene opens in November of 1987. The black clothing of the friends, the somber mood and the absence of Shelby hint at what’s about to unfold. Annelle has remarried, deepened her faith, and she is nearing the time for the birth of her first child. Clairee has just returned from a dream trip to France. And Ouiser has reconnected with a former male classmate.

From M’Lynn the audience learns of Shelby’s fate. The transplant ultimately failed. After falling into a coma, Shelby passed away at the hospital. The funeral is planned for that afternoon. Through her grief, M’Lynn shares that she was there when Shelby was born and there holding her hand when she slipped away. When M’Lynn expresses anger over her daughter’s untimely death, her friends rally around her, each offering to the heartbroken mother out of their strengths and different perspectives. We see how incredibly precious the gift of friendship is.

This was a very big deal for me, to go see this play. I have purposely avoided the movie, based on the play, since its release in 1989. Without knowing the story, I only knew that the movie was sad. That’s all I needed to know. Due to my difficulties in shedding tears and allowing myself to feel sad emotions, I have successfully stayed away from the film.

When I learned that Joplin Little Theater was presenting Steel Magnolias, I felt it was time to experience this story and not shy away from my emotions. What better companions could I have than my own circle of strong women? I cherish the relationships that I have with each woman and I am grateful that they chose to accompany me to the play.

I was impressed with the creativity of the production. All four scenes took place in the beauty shop, which meant we learned the story through the conversations and interactions of the characters. I adore that kind of cleverness. And the cast of women was amazing. Each actress brought her very best to her role, making the audience laugh in delight or weep in sympathy. These fine performers deserved the standing ovation that they received at the end of the play.

I thought that watching the story unfold as a live performance would lessen the emotional impact on me. After all, there wasn’t a soundtrack of dramatic music to cue my emotions or a long, drawn out hospital scene that depicted Shelby’s death. I was wrong. The sincere and deeply moving portrayals by the cast as the recounted the end of Shelby’s life bypassed my logical brain and zinged right into my heart. My eyes welled up, as M’Lynn spoke passionately about her daughter, and a single tear trickled down my cheek.

I am grateful for the opportunity to see Steel Magnolias in the format it was originally created in. I am even more grateful to have family members seated with me. More than friends, we understand the joys and challenges that life can present. We are daughters, and mothers. We know the fierce desire to live life on our own terms and the equally fierce love that a mother has always for her children. We left united in our appreciation for each other and in our determination to walk alongside each other on this journey we call Life.

And now, at last, I have the Steel Magnolias movie queued up on my Amazon Prime watchlist. I am ready to watch it. I am ready to experience whatever emotions this story draws from me.

Girls’ Night Out

A quick pictorial post tonight, celebrating a fun evening spent with the women in my family. It is rare for me to get to enjoy an evening with my mom and sisters AND my daughters and daughter-in-law.

The seven of us met for dinner at Hunan Gardens on South Main Street. We connected over shared stories and laughter. And then we sat together in the audience at Joplin Little Theater for a viewing of the play, Steel Magnolias. I’ll write a review later of this exceptional play, performed brilliantly by a local cast.

What a special evening, watching a play that featured a group of strong women who walk with each other through the joys and challenges of life, while sitting with my own group of strong women who have committed to walk with each other through the joys and challenges of life.

I am so grateful for my mom, for my sisters Linda and Debbie, and for my girls, Elissa, Adriel and Megan. I look forward to more times together, sharing experiences and special events.

Joplin Little Theater Presents Arsenic and Old Lace

I enjoyed a fun evening with my sisters, Linda and Debbie. We joined a full house at Joplin Little Theater, for the production of Arsenic and Old Lace. I watched the 1944 movie version recently. What a treat to see the play for the first time, during a girls’ night out. 

Joplin Little Theater Presents Arsenic and Old Lace
Arsenic and Old Lace, by Joseph Kesselring, was written in 1939 and opened on January 10, 1941. The opening night review in The New York Times said the play was “so funny that none of us will ever forget it.” Indeed, it has not been forgotten. Arsenic and Old Lace became well known through the film adaptation starring Cary Grant, and continues to be a popular and endearing play, 78 years later. 

The Joplin production was directed by Gary Roney, who was assisted by co-director Tegan Whited. 

The play is a dark comedy, centered around the Brewster Family. Descended from an ancestor who arrived on the Mayflower, they are now a peculiar family of homicidal maniacs. The hero of the story is Mortimer Brewster (Sam Hydar), a drama critic, who learns more than he cares to know about his crazy family, after proposing to his girlfriend Elaine (Ashley Trotnic).

Mortimer’s sweet, charitable aunts, Martha (Carolyn McGowan) and Abby (Molly Burkhart) have a surprising, and dark, secret. Out of a sense of compassion, they help lonely older gentlemen by serving them homemade elderberry wine, laced with arsenic. They have assisted twelve gentlemen thus far. Their bodies are buried in the basement. 

Aiding the sisters is Mortimer’s brother Teddy (Daniel Pool), who believes he is the president of the United States,Theodore Roosevelt. He unwittingly provides graves in the basement for the deceased, thinking he is digging canals at Panama. 

Joplin Little Theater Presents Arsenic and Old Lace
Rounding out the eccentric Brewsters is the bad boy of the family, Jonathan (Drew Girouard), who returns home unexpectedly with his partner in crime, Dr. Einstein (Jeremy Wolfe). They bring with them a body of their own to conceal. 

Mortimer must deal with the revelations that are piling up, along with the bodies, and make crucial decisions about his odd family members and his own uncertain future. 

In spite of the grim topic, this was a fun play to watch. It is performed as a comedy, and it is one, delightfully so. The audience was appreciative of the fine performances, laughing boisterously and applauding at the end of each act. I think we all laugh because we are relieved that every family has its secrets and its eccentricities. 

The whole cast of characters, which included Brooklyn police officers, an insane asylum director, a minister, an older gentleman looking for a room and even a “dead” body, performed wonderfully together and genuinely seemed to have fun playing. 

Joplin Little Theater Presents Arsenic and Old Lace

I have to give special recognition to Sam Hydar, who was superb as Mortimer. He captured that over the top style of humor reminiscent of Cary Grant in the movie adaptation, with hilarious facial expressions and gestures. 

And Jeremy Wolfe gave an amazing performance as Dr. Einstein, the alcoholic surgeon who fell in with the villainous brother,  Jonathan. Wolfe impersonated the film’s counterpart, Peter Lorre, so well that it messed with my head! 

My sister Debbie and I intend to be the Brewster Sisters at the family Halloween party this year. We enjoyed the play and left with great ideas for costumes and props. After watching the performance tonight, Debbie was drawn to Abby’s personality and I’ll step into Martha’s role. We will have fun being those sweet ladies with their misguided but well intentioned ideas for easing the suffering of lonely old men. 

What a great evening we had, with quality sister time, an outstanding performance from Joplin Little Theater, and research for becoming the Brewster Sisters for Halloween. Elderberry wine, anyone? 

Joplin Little Theater Presents Arsenic and Old Lace

Day 66: Watch Mr. Peabody & Sherman Movie

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As I have shared previously, I love movies. I am blessed to have a granddaughter who shares my passion and enjoyment of films. At the age of five, she has an impressive collection of DVDs that rivals mine.

Today’s first was to go see Mr. Peabody & Sherman, on opening night no less, with Aubrey and my sister Linda. We made it a girls’ night out with dinner at Chick-Fil-A ( where I enjoyed grilled chicken bites and a fruit cup), the movie, and funny pics in the photo booth to commemorate the evening.

Aubrey has been waiting to see this animated feature. When she realized it opened today, she made a request, via her dad, to go to the movie theater. I was happy to oblige. We invited my sister, who is Gigi to all the kids in the family, because she is always a fun companion. I felt a tug of nostalgia watching the dog-father, human-son duo. These characters were first introduced in the 1960’s as regulars on The Rocky and Bullwinkle show. They had a segment called “Peabody’s Improbable History” where they time travelled and met famous figures and witnessed historical events.

The movie keeps the premise and freshens the story with fast paced action, a bit of school age romance, and more back story on Mr. Peabody and Sherman and their adoptive relationship. The movie contains an abundance of humor for the kids and for the adults, puns that cracked us up and caused Aubrey to turn to me several times and ask, “Why is that funny?”

Overall, it was a fun movie. As always, I enjoyed watching Aubrey watch the movie as much as I enjoyed seeing it myself. Like me, she absorbs a film, repeating dialogue to herself and often acting out scenes for days after the final credits. I love discussing the story and characters with her afterward and hearing her keen insights. The world is fresh and new when seen through the eyes of a child and her perspective on a movie we’ve just seen delights and impresses me.

During the previews, my granddaughter picked out several upcoming movies that she wants to see. I look forward to each one. I look forward to being Aubrey’s movie companion!

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