I am never quite sure what to expect when I go see a stage version of a movie that I have always adored. More often than not, I find that the live version just isn't as good and the theater experience therefore is a disappointment.
By Liz Beavers
Tribune Managing Editor
I am never quite sure what to expect when I go see a stage version of a movie that I have always adored. More often than not, I find that the live version just isn’t as good and the theater experience therefore is a disappointment.
Even so, I was excited to be asked to sit in on a dress rehearsal for “Steel Magnolias” earlier this week at The Indie on Main. The tale of five wise-cracking southern women is one of my absolute favorite movies and knowing most of the cast in this live version, I felt they would do the story justice.
I was wrong. They didn’t do it justice … they do it magnificently.
For those of you who have seen the movie and not the play, here’s a little background. The original play, which so perfectly captures the personalities and intricacies of five southern women of varying ages – dubbed “Steel Magnolias” because they are delicate like flowers but strong as steel when they need to be – was actually written by a man.
That man, Robert Harling, had lost his sister and was seeking a way in which to cope with the horrible loss. He decided to write about it and came up with what can arguably be called one of the South’s - if not the country’s - most endearing pieces of literature.
The play tells the story of Shelby Eatenton, a young woman who has battled diabetes since she was born but strives to live a normal life despite the damage the disease has done to her body over the years. She is a strong-willed young woman just like her momma, however, and becomes determined to do the one thing her doctors -and mother - advise against. She wants to have a baby.
Her mother, M’Lynne, is the perfect example of what psychologists today call the helicopter mom. She figuratively hovers about, trying to take charge of everything from what Shelby eats and how her hair is done to the decorations at her wedding and yes, whether Shelby will have a baby or adopt.
Then there’s their best friends – Truvy, who runs the beauty parlor to which they all congregate not just to be “done up” but also to share their lives and gossip about the latest happenings in the neighborhood; Annelle, the newest addition to Truvy’s who has a mysterious past she refuses to talk about but is quickly given away by her nervousness about finding her way in a new place; Clairee, the former mayor’s wife who is the perfect example of a proper senior southern belle with a sharp, witty tongue; and Oiser, the grouchy old geezer who works very hard to conceal her soft side.
Unlike the movie, the play takes place entirely inside Truvy’s. Like the movie, the characters are familiar, lovable, witty, sarcastic, sympathetic, and a perfect depiction of the stereotypical southern lady.
As Shelby, actress Delanie Blubaugh does a nice job of shifting between a hopeful young bride-to-be and a willful young woman who loves her mother dearly but wishes she would stop hovering and listen to what she wants.
Clairee is portrayed by Trish Morgan, who does a fine job of getting into the character portrayed in the movie by Olympia Dukakis. She loves a good verbal boxing match with her buddy Ouiser and find much joy in what her generation calls “getting her goat.”
Truvy, the character portrayed in the movie by Dolly Parton, is portrayed in this stage version by Carrie Wolford. Don’t compare her to Dolly, though … Carrie brings a whole different take to the character that must be accepted on its own merit…and does a fine job at it. She is caring and kind; quickly offering to help all the while dealing with her own sad relationships with the men in her life.
My complaint about Ouiser, as portrayed by Danni Acord (who also directs the show), is that there isn’t enough of her. Grouchy old Ouiser as portrayed by Shirley MacLaine in the movie was one of my favorite characters and Danni does not disappoint with the snappy wise cracks on the Indie stage.
The character of Annelle, portrayed by a just-starting-out Daryl Hannah in the movie, fits like a glove in the hands of Jessica Miller in this stage version. The whiny southern drawl, the skittish demeanor, the naivete … she plays the part perfectly.
And now for M’Lynn. Anyone who has seen the movie knows about THAT scene in the graveyard when M’Lynn lets loose with her anger, tears and frustration over losing her daughter and realizing this was the one thing she just could not control.
On the Indie stage, Danise Whitlock is M’Lynne. Or is she Sally Field playing M’Lynne? Either way, I’m here to tell you she will absolutely blow you away with THAT scene.
“Steel Magnolias” is such an ensemble piece, I really hate to single anyone out. But Danise Whitlock as M’Lynne Eatenton steals the show in that last scene.
It’s the first time I ever remember shedding a tear at a theatrical production. (In fact, the other actors admitted to me at the end of the rehearsal that she often has them crying, as well.)
But never fear, just like in the movie, there is always a snappy wise-crack from M’Lynne’s fellow Magnolias to bring her, and the play, to a cheerier conclusion.
You MUST go see “Steel Magnolias.” This is acting at its best and you will not regret the time you spend with these five fine Southern ladies!