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.

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 213: The Boy Friend Musical

The Boy Friend e

What a fun evening as my sister Linda and I saw a performance of The Boy Friend at Joplin Little Theater. Seeing the musical was a first for me, and for Linda, it was not only her first time to see the musical, but her first time to be in the Joplin Little Theater. We had great seats near the front and settled in to enjoy an outstanding production.

The Boy Friend is a musical comedy, written in three acts, by Sandy Wilson. This British musical is a spoof, intended to playfully make fun of the musicals presented in the 1920’s. Written in the early 1950’s, the London production, which began in 1954, ran for 2078 performances. The show opened on Broadway in September of the same year and ran for 485 performances, and marked the Broadway debut of Julie Andrews in the role of Polly Browne.

The Joplin production was directed by Carolyn McGowan with choreography by Angela Lowe. Musical director was Clint Newby and Vocal Director, Becky Seidl. The 2014-2015 season at Joplin Little Theater celebrates the theater’s 75th anniversary. In 1960 The Boy Friend was the first Broadway musical performed at JLT. The 2014 version boasts a very talented group of young performers in the title roles and some returning favorites playing the more mature roles.

The musical is set in the Villa Caprice where we meet a lively bunch of young women at Mme Dubonnet’s School for Young Ladies. The central character, Polly Browne (Lindsey Daniels), is a young heiress who, sadly, is the only girl there without a boyfriend. So she makes one up. There is a carnival ball that evening and Polly is in a predicament, until she meets the handsome young messenger, Tony (Forrest Bunter), who is delivering her costume for the evening. The two hit it off and make arrangements to meet later in the day. Concerned that Tony will want her for her wealth, Polly pretends to be a secretary at the school.

There is love all over the villa! Polly’s widowed father Percy (Ricardo Field) arrives, and Mme Dubonnet (Becky Seidl) recognizes her long ago lover. Polly’s friends, the girls, all have beaus who hang on their every word and garner promises for dances at the upcoming ball. Lord and Lady Brockhurst, (Matt Myers and Kelly Purser) are a wealthy English couple visiting the villa and lamenting the loss of their son, who has disappeared. Or at least, Lady Brockhurst is. Lord Brockhurst has an eye for the lovely ladies, and an ever present martini in his hand.

By the time the carnival ball arrives, we discover who Tony really is and there are glad reunions, joyful kisses and many happily paired off couples. They rejoice with a dance and a song, of course!

This was an extremely engaging, high energy production. Linda and I laughed and applauded throughout the musical. What a talented cast and the songs and dance numbers were exceptional. And yes, there were lots of moments of hamming it up, as this was, after all, a spoof, or a pastiche as the British call it. I was delighted by the performances and sitting as close as we did, I appreciated the adorable facial expressions and over the top gestures.

Matt Myers, who portrayed Lord Brockhurst, brought the most laughs with his slightly inebriated mannerisms and his roving eye and deep appreciation for the pretty girls. He warmed up the audience with introductions before the show. I loved the duet between him and the character Dulcie, played wonderfully by Chelsie Jefferies, called “It’s Never Too Late to Fall in Love”.

I have so enjoyed the Joplin Little Theater productions this year. It took having a year of firsts to get me to become a regular patron. But a regular I now am. I am excited for the new season and JLT’s 75th Anniversary celebration!

The Boy Friend cast e

Day 89: Murder at the Howard Johnson Play


As I set off to watch this production at Joplin Little Theater, I mulled over what this play was going to be about. It was too gorgeous a spring day for a murder! I deliberately don’t read up on movies, plays or musicals before I watch so that I can enjoy the story as it unfolds. So I didn’t have any idea what this play was about. As this was the last performance today for this play, in Joplin, there will be spoilers contained in this post! If you don’t want details about Murder at the Howard Johnson, stop here.

Murder at the Howard Johnson is a two act play written by Ron Clark and Sam Bobrick. It first appeared on Broadway, for a short run, in 1979. The Joplin production was directed by Jade Nichols. The cast included Marilyn Marshal-Six as Arlene Miller, Richard H. Roberts as Dr. Mitchell Lovell and new comer Roscoe Miller as Paul Miller.

The story takes place in a hotel room at the Howard Johnson Inn, in the mid 1980’s. There are three scenes: Christmas Eve, 1984, 4th of July, 1985 and New Year’s Eve, 1985/86. I was immediately impressed with the way set changes were made. The room essentially stayed the same and between scenes, maids came into the room to add or remove decorations and furniture. The room number on the door was even changed each time. Clever indeed.

In the first act we are introduced to Arlene Miller who is in the room with her dentist lover, Mitchell Lovell. They are plotting the murder of Arlene’s used car salesman husband, Paul. What ensues is a light hearted, fast paced comedy in which the intended victim and the would-be murderers change with each scene. With all thoughts of this being a dark play banished, I sat back and thoroughly enjoyed the performance. This was a humorous look at a love triangle that became a snarled knot of intrigue when it came to who was going to kill whom.

Arlene, a woman of the 80’s who is learning to think for herself, finds she has grown apart from her unromantic husband. Paul feels love is best expressed by buying his wife unimaginative gifts while Arlene’s lover, Mitchell, is all about freely expressing his love in very physical ways. None of them quite gets it right and it takes mayhem and multiple attempts at murder to discover the true nature of love and friendship.

Marilyn Marshall-Six was exquisite as Arlene and captured her sexy, air-headed nature well. I’d seen Richard H. Roberts, who portrayed the lover, Mitchell, previously in Mousetrap. He has a rich, distinctive voice and a great sense of comedic timing. This was the first performance for Roscoe Miller, who played the cheated upon husband, Paul. In his bio, Roscoe noted that he auditioned for the part to show support for his daughter who has appeared in several JLT productions. He turned in a great first performance.

This was a very physical play, with sight gags and slapstick type humor and the actors handled it superbly. There was one hilarious “blooper”. When Arlene threw a glassful of water in Paul’s face, he reacted by immediately spitting a stream of water back at her. The actors dissolved into smiles and then laughter and had to turn away for a moment to regain composure. The audience loved this and showed their delight with loud laughter and applause.

The Murder at the Howard Johnson was a fun and relaxing way to spend a Sunday afternoon. And best of all, no one died. It wasn’t quite a fairytale ending, but all did live happily ever after.


Day 30: The Mousetrap at Joplin Little Theater


I love a good whodunit! So what better way to spend the evening and get in a first too, than seeing Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, presented by Joplin Little Theater.

Agatha Christie, considered the queen of the murder mystery, wrote this drama which was originally titled Three Blind Mice. The name was changed to The Mousetrap when it opened in London’s West End in 1952, and it has been playing ever since, making it the longest running play of any type, in modern history. I was excited to learn the play was being performed in Joplin.

The cast gave an outstanding performance. The play is set in Monkswell Manor, near London and I was impressed with the actors’ abilities to pull off authentic sounding accents! During a snowstorm, guests at Monkswell Manor are stranded. There are murders to solve and a murderer to catch. The set was excellent and the characters well developed. I laughed. I clapped. Mostly, though, I sat captivated, watching and listening intently, collecting clues. That’s the real thrill of the whodunit. Is she who she says she is? Is he telling the truth? What fun to keep a mental tally of who was who and figure out, along with the audience, who did the wicked deed.

This play perfected the “plot twist” with its ending, shocking attendees back in its early days of production. Audiences continue to be cautioned against giving away the ending and revealing who the killer is. Did I correctly guess the identity of the murderer? I did, although I was prepared until the very end, to be wrong. Will I reveal who did it?  Never!