Saturday, June 18, 2011

Review: Steel Magnolias - Costa Mesa Playhouse

Steel Magnolias is running now through July 3rd at the Costa Mesa Playhouse.

When I walked in to the theater with my cup of coffee in my hand, I was surrounded by Aqua Net. The setting is Truvy's Salon, well-equipped and not one detail forgotten. Even the hair dryers really do operate...fun to watch! The remarkable stage design work of Travis Stolp, was absolutely gorgeous! Kudos for set construction by Mike Brown, George Hunter, and Steve Endicott.

Sound and Lights by Travis Stolp and John McQuay were super, always are. The lightening effects and radio playbacks really stood out, excellent choices of music throughout!

Costuming by Christopher Miles-a respectful bow to you sir, the entire cast looked authentic and then some. The best dressed award goes to YOU! You really "outfit" yourself!

Jason Holland, my hat's off to you for a well-directed, thought-out interpretation. The blocking-you couldn't have done it better! The interactions...played out extremely well and entrances and exits timed perfectly with no distractions at all. Great movement, nothing ever too rushed or "tightly packed," nothing too slow either. The flow was a smooth ebb of delivery, just as it should be...Bravo!

What I saw tonight blew me away, I can't even tell you how much...but let me try.

The show opens with Annelle doing Truvy's hair and I'm sitting in my seat already entranced. Michelle Pederson, who plays Truvee has so much of "Dolly Parton" in her that you'd think they cloned a younger Dolly and just shrunk her boobs a bit. This smaller-chested version is nothing but BIG CHARACTER, however.  Michelle was amazing in this role and nothing short of amazing, I tell ya!! She's got all her own hair, which works well since Truvy's a hairdresser, the character must have hair and BIG hair at that. I don't know where she came from, but she was meant to play this role.  Ironically, I learned she had played it about five years ago...acting can be just like riding a bike if you're lucky enough to land a great role like that twice. I don't know about her, but sometimes it's even better the second go-around. Director Jason Holland (who I can't find online!) got reeeaally lucky having her in his cast. I can't even begin to tell you, this girl has the mannerisms of the original character down to a science. Even the way her lip goes to one side when she's excited or telling gossip is perfection. Now, one sad thing I have discovered, you can't find Michelle Pederson ANYWHERE online...at least I haven't been able to. A very sad discovery for such a great talent who should be known to more people, in my opinion.

Oh, this brings me to a side note....not one Actress offered me her card, nor were there any website links in their bios...BOO! I didn't see any (business cards) being handed out after the show, period--a big no no in the "Marketing for Dummies" book inside my head. Hey girls, promote yourselves!! You NEVER know who's in an audience!! Believe me, I've been in the same room with CBS execs with no idea...so no promo is a no no! I'm always glad when I can meet my fellow actors/actresses after a show. Sadly, Amanda Hart dodged out the door without greeting any of the audience :( I hadn't seen Erin Miller come out so I got someone to grab her and she shook my hand and greeted me over the snack counter-so cute. Lynn Gallagher I went after out back, since I missed talking to her in the lobby. Michelle Pedersen had a flock of people around her so I made my introduction after her fans left. Phyllis I grabbed onto first, she was out in the lobby the quickest. A very nice lady, she's almost too quiet a contrast to Ouiser, profoundly :) Bethany, well, I grabbed her and gave big hugs and kisses, through more tears...funny.

Ok, so, on to the recap of this amazing evening!

Annelle, played by Erin Miller, is the funniest, quirkiest thang you ever did see!...(Insert Hilarious Southern Accent) If you've seen the movie, you'll remember how Daryl Hannah keeps her head down and walks with such a "busy body" look about her. Shy, unsure of herself, she just needs the darn job and wants no part of letting anyone "in." The character (physically) almost reminds me of Agnes Gooch in Auntie Mame (not that I'd know anything about that character - heheh) With the corners of her mouth consistently pointed down and her pointed and well-aimed comedic delivery behind a HUGE pair of glasses, she's a treasure to watch. She gets all the laughs in most of the first 20 mins or so of the show and every one of them extremely well-deserved. I am not sure where this kid learned her timinig, but she had a good teacher, so hats off to whoever that is! As I'm thinking about it, she just may be an updated version of Ruth Buzzee, we just need to get her a purse and a hair net and I bet she'd do battle!

Well, now that I've taken in these two, I await the entry of one Lynn Gallagher, who's probably just slightly older than I and after reading her amazing bio, I couldn't wait to see what she had in store for me. As an Actress, when one of your peers has some "skin" (aka experience) under their belt, it's like waiting to see what will happen if you say, threw a grenade with the pin still in. Will it go off anyway? You just really crave the explosion no matter what...and you wait behind that wall...whispering to yourself...come on...come on....!! There was an explosion alright! A big KABOOM when Lynn took the stage, she took over..BAM! There was no mistaking the right choice had been made for this role. Her character interpretation was dead on...controlled, matter-of-fact, precise, practical, endearing, rich, perfectly timed...oh and her "throw aways" hit out of the park, baby! Whooo hooo....just amazing work throughout the entire play. No matter when she'd "come in" in the conversations you knew it was going to be funny, profound and just make you fall in love with her and I did. Bravo for an amazing performance, Lynn.

I'm thinking to myself, ok, Shelby's time to arrive to get her hair done for the wedding is just about to hit. Amanda Hart, who is tall and lanky, has the most beautiful face that brought me back to the first time I ever saw Snow White at Disney...entranced by her milky and flawless complexion, she's just gorgeous--she makes an amazing Shelby in looks alone, never mind her dead-on voice and accent...you'd think you were watching Julia Roberts--she's THAT good. The biggest "thrill" for me was anticipating this whole time about how she was going to do with the famous Diabetic seizure. I guess as an Actress, I want to see my fellow Actress let go and give it everything she's got. So, I sit through the scene with anticipation build up. I won't give anything away about the seizure scene, I'm going to leave that one a mystery. Along with Shelby, comes my amazing friend, Bethany Price as M'Lynn, Shelby's Mother. The talk about Shelby's hair either up or down for the wedding, the baby's breathe in the hair or not, it's all great ping-pong dialogue with none of the five women ever skipping a beat. The connection with all the Actresses was splendid and moving, reminds me of a time when I was in my early 20s and I'd have a house full of friends over, chatting about any ole' thing and it would seem like it was the most important thing in the world. Looking back, it was just being together that made everything so wonderful. Girls getting together to talk about absolutely nothing is something that women LOVE to do and we LOVE each other when we're doing it. I don't expect you men to understand the importance of talks such as what you're making for dinner tomorrow night, but to us, it's who we are. So, thinking of that, I got so lost and profoundly connected--so much so, I forgot I was even sitting in an audience.

Bethany's face is very reminiscent of Sally Field in the movie. I keep seeing Sally as I watched Bethany.....it was a great performance, she never held back. From the time she comes in, you already feel the sense of protection she has for Shelby even before the Diabetic seizure happens. She nails it! Bethany is a Mom in real life, I'm sure that has a lot to do with her interpretation. As protector, solid and reasonable, rational and loving as you'll find in the ideal mom, Bethany makes you forget it's Bethany up there "playing" someone else. Even knowing her, she made me forget that I knew her and drove me to a place that I could not escape from...the memories of our own mothers growing up in our time...the 70s and 80s. M'Lynn is stubborn as a mule, would do anything for anyone and yes, forgets about her own needs and desires. She gives every bit of soul she has to Shelby and doesn't think twice about it. Bethany Price is an amazing Actress...just wait till you see her riviting monologue at the end...it's not easy, but she makes it look like a walk in the park. If you don't cry, something's wrong with you. Hell, I was still crying when I went out to the Lobby. Not to take anything away from the other cast members, they are all great. Buuuut....Bethany's performance left not one dry eye in the house...and it is by far the highlight and most pinnacle part of the entire production, hands down, no question. For those that don't know the story of Steel Magnolias, I urge you to NOT rent the movie yet, just go see this. THEN watch Sally Field. Bethany NAILS it! NAILS..you hear me? NAILS!

Ouiser (played by Phyllis Nofts) is the craziest old battle axe you every did see! When we first see her, she's in a butcheroo jogging set and t-shirt. HILARE!! She walks in like a dude, you could feel the audience in a blank stare watching her. Ok, is Ouiser a lesbian or just a mean ole' "hasn't had it in 15 years" difficult lady?  Precisely what Ouiser is, Phyllis plays her extremely well. With her strong opinions, dog as her best friend, heavy foot work and "get the hell outta my face" attitude, you understand she's got walls up she wants noone to tear down. She's hilarious and I couldn't stop laughing at her! The big hat she wore just about killed me. Christopher Miles-Costumes...kudos again! When she first enters the show, she's "hard" and "rough" around the edges. As the show progresses, she softens up a little bit and probably because she's "ticklin' the ivories" with an old fling that's come back into town. You never see the guy, but I bet he's a submissive. No matter when Ouiser opens her mouth, you know that deep down, there's a loving, wonderful lady dying to get out and show herself to you. Her stage presence is BIG and she's got some killer comebacks that are laugh-out-loud funny. Of course, I laughed out loud a LOT! The softer side that Phyllis brings out in Ouiser is an absolute joy to witness and to hold dear during your reflection on the car ride home.

So, there you have it, without giving away the story, (I don't want to spoil it) I hope you have enjoyed my little review. I don't write extensive reviews unless I see a play that makes me go WOW and I just feel moved to write about it. This one made me go...HOLY WOW!

From my mouth to your pocket....
GO SEE STEEL MAGNOLIAS!!

NJ

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