By CATHY MATHIAS
There are only two more weekends to catch “Steel Magnolias” playing at Emma’s Attic, the upstairs black box theater at Titusville Playhouse in downtown Titusville. But, hurry because the shows are selling out fast!
Prepare yourself for lots of laughter and a few tears at the Titusville production. This is a laugh-out-loud play about friendship, competition and the wisdom of lightening up a little to get through the hard times. It’s obvious these six women on stage have fun portraying Southern belles from Natchitoches, Louisiana. They’re tough as steel or sweet as magnolias – whatever the occasion calls for.
Robert Harling, who grew up in Natchitoches, LA, wrote this script from his heart in 1987 while struggling in New York City as an actor and it became an immediate success. It ran Off-Broadway in 1987, then on Broadway in 2005. Most people are familiar with the 1989 film starring Dolly Parton, Julia Roberts, Sally Field, Olympia Dukakis and Shirley MacLaine.
The story opens in a beauty parlor where women prepare for Shelby’s wedding day. The play hinges on the choices made by Shelby, who is confident that marriage to her beau, Jackson, will start a wonderful future together.
This is an enjoyable little show. Immensely watchable is newcomer Brittany Grant (a former California actress) who brings the main role of Shelby Eatenton-Latcherie to life with her sweet-as-molasses accent, preening ways and aching vulnerability.
Her mother, M’Lynn Eatenton — portrayed by Amy Gadapee — projects the reserved, hesitant, guarded attitude. Knowing her daughter must control her diabetes, M’Lynn needs to keep Shelby in check. Gadapee’s portrayal of a woman wound tight presents an excellent foil against the extravagance of the other women in the play.
Debbie Parrish plays a lovable Truvy Jones, who operates a beauty salon in her house. She brings warmth and kindness to her role. Mary Anne Bennett shows great sense of physical comedy in her role as the beauty school graduate, Annelle Dupuy, and gets lots of laughs.
Janice Pound portrays the mayor’s widow, Clairee Belcher, who quietly tries to get the others to raise the bar in their social life, even suggesting a trip to enjoy New York theater. This actress should raise her volume so her voice will carry to the back of the house. Clairee loves to irritate the wonderfully grouchy Ouiser Boudreaux (pronounced “Weeza Boodro”). Ouiser is played by Norma McGrath who just moved to Brevard from Boston and we’re glad she did! Her rough, gravelly voice is perfectly pitched against Clairee’s sing-song flightiness.
The set design goes for realism with sinks, hair dryers and old beauty parlor chairs from the 1980s, but the fake mirrors don’t make it, and the dull-gray backdrop curtain lends a dour note, making me wish for more wisps of color here and there. The costumes are authentic to the time and place, but Shelby deserves a better wig. The lighting for this show is unremarkable except for one scene.
The actresses in this Titusville production seem more down-to-earth, not as hyper and artificial as in the film version. The performances of Brittany Grant, Mary Anne Bennett and Norma McGrath are real stand-outs. And as Clairee would say, why not “expose yourself to a little more culture” and support the arts.
Side o’ Grits:
“Steel Magnolias” runs through April 14 at Emma’s Attic in Titusville Playhouse, 301 Julia St., Titusville. Curtain is 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. $10. Call 321-268-1125 or visit www.titusvilleplayhouse.com