Review By Josie Grant
“Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.” – Truvy, Steel Magnolias
Life is a contradiction. Bitter and sweet; awfully good; its storms survived and then made beautiful in their aftermath by steel magnolias. Comedy and tragedy are not a part of life, but are life; a paradox which must be embraced if it is to be overcome. What better way to show this delicate balance of navigating and surviving life’s ups and downs than through the story of six strong women and their fierce determination to support one another?
Robert Harling wrote Steel Magnolias after his sister died of complications of diabetes in 1985. It opened Off-Broadway in 1987, was adapted into a film in 1989, and made its Broadway debut in 2005. In order to come to terms with the loss, he focused on the humor and lightheartedness his family used to cope with the seriousness of the situation.
The play, set in small town Louisiana in the 80’s, centers on a group of southern women powerfully bonded by their shared experiences. Clove Creek Dinner Theater’s production tackles the daunting task of assembling a group of women who capable of portraying the bond established by the characters in the span of decades, in a matter of weeks. The play opens in a beauty salon, where advice is dispensed like hairspray. The story unfolds entirely within the salon, with each character stopping by not only for the cosmetology services the events of life require, but also, indeed probably more so, for the camaraderie of friends who have become family. The single set works nicely with Clove Creek’s stage and the dinner theater gives the intended moments of connectedness the pleasant, familiar “informal therapy session” feel you might get from a wise barman – or a good hair stylist.
Through thoughtful casting, Director Teresa Gasparini, who has served as the Artistic Director of Clove Creek since its inception in 2015, enables each member of this strong ensemble to shine by letting each one bring their own unique touch to the characters.
Laurel Riley-Brown, complete with the big hair of the 80’s, effectively plays kind hearted gossip and salon owner, Truvy. Her newly hired assistant, Annelle, played by Maddy M. Murphy, has a wide character arc. Ms. Murphy’s portrayal is believable every step of the way, and in the play’s closing moments in particular, quite moving.
Patricia Holzhauer, as Clairee, the sophisticated widow of the former mayor, and Stephanie Hepburn, as her long-time friend and wealthy curmudgeon Ouiser, successfully strike the love-hate relationship indicative of an old friendship with their portrayals.
Rena Gavigan, who plays the kind-hearted strong willed Shelby, and Kit Colbourn, who plays M’Lynne, her passionate but stubborn mother, are both perfect in their delivery of what each would be feeling as a young woman facing a limiting disease, and as the mom who only wants what’s best for her.
As the contradiction in its title suggests, Steel Magnolias is both art imitating life, and life imitating art; and Clove Creek’s production will have you laughing through the tears.
Steel Magnolias plays through Sunday, August 18th at Clove Creek Dinner Theater, 18 Wastage Business Center Drive, Fishkill, NY (845) 202-7778; www.clovecreekdinnertheater.com