IF YOU GO
What: The ladies of Chinquapin Parish gather at Truvy's for gossip and sisterhood
When: 7 p.m. Friday & Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Firehouse Community Theatre, 241 N. Bridge St., LaBelle
Cost: $12 in advance, $14 at the door
Information: Call (863) 675-3066 or firehouse community theatre.com
On the Web: More theater news at The Stage Door blog
LABELLE — "Steel Magnolias" remains a favorite of local playhouses. The play offers six strong female roles, a colorful set and a beloved story identified with the award-winning movie. With that in mind, I journeyed out to the Firehouse Community Theatre in LaBelle for an afternoon of hair-curling fun.
For twenty years, volunteers have been putting up shows in LaBelle's old firehouse. The charming venue retains the bay doors that once housed fire trucks; props and show posters dating back two decades decorate the space - even the bathrooms! Every seat in the intimate venue offers a great view. Fresh popcorn smells wonderful and tempts the taste buds, although the crunch from neighboring seats during the show makes for a mighty distraction.
Director Joel Hawkins has recently appeared in productions with the Naples Players ("Moonlight & Magnolias") and the Lab Theater ("Picasso at the Lapin Agile"). He brings Robert Harling's vision of the Old South to life in LaBelle, working with three actresses making their stage debuts, along with a trio of longtime thespians.
"Steel Magnolias" proves a durable show. Here, with enthusiastic amateurs performing, what becomes most apparent is joy that the ladies of Truvy's get from gathering, gossiping, sipping coffee, trading recipes, talking about men, trading secrets about all the other women in the neighborhood and sharing their lives.
I can spot the cracks in the show, where performers skip entire sections of dialogue or mis-pronounce the French-inspired place names. No one else in the audience can. Sunday afternoon's nearly full house loved the show, laughed at all the right spots, cried in the correct places and felt pain right along with M'Lynn. Some folks even talked back to the characters during the show. That's when you know you've got 'em!
Mary Cosmo, in her debut, makes for a wonderfully colorful, sassy, brassy Truvy. I love the lilting accent and the way she forcibly pulls the character back from being a white trash caricature. Truvy is very real, very much the heart of the show; Hawkins and Cosmo identified that and let her play the character that way. The array of colorful headpieces add flair, although I wish the long blonde wig veered slightly less toward trailer territory.
Firehouse Theatre founder Janice Groves brings a delightful carefree air to Clairee. She delivers some of the snarky lines with just the right air of put-upon entitlement so common to small-town Southern aristocracy. In other places, she subtly aids the less-experienced cast members as they dig their way out of trouble in scenes.
Barbara McDowell plays Ouiser Boudreax at two speeds, fast and loud - and faster and louder. With a great shock of wiry hair, her curmudgeon feels like blast of cranky but lovable air hitting the stage. A clear favorite, her Ouiser brims with outrageous costumes (the Santa outfit alone!) and even more outrageous statements. Meagan Johnson (Annelle), Bianca Burke Ross (Shelby) and Julie Wilkins (M'Lynn) round out the cast.
Linda Ross's mismatched and entirely amazing beauty shop set offers a feast for the eyes. Take note of the upstage window, which features outside scenes that change with the seasons. So does the poster on the bulletin board (kudos for the Randy Travis shout-out!). Marie Kussman and Travis Dowhen gathered props. Amusing and realistic costumes were credited to "Da Gurls."
"Steel Magnolias" reflects what it is - a production from a small, if wonderfully devoted community theatre.
One thing the show does beautifully - perhaps as well as any production I've ever seen - is the art of fixing hair on stage. Cosmo creates a gorgeous undo for Ross's Shelby, framed by a heart of baby's breath. Johnson manages to keep her mostly silent Annelle busy and a part of the scenes with facial expressions and small movements while working on hairstyles - and I simply adore the streaking cap McDowell wears in the final scene. Touches like these prove that entertaining theater can be found anywhere.
"Most of Chinquapin Parish'd give their eyeteeth to take a whack at Ouiser." Email me, email@example.com, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.