Powerhouse Production of 'Steel Magnolias' A Tour De Force

The must-see show continues this weekend at the North Fork Community Theatre.

Photo Credit: NFCT
Photo Credit: NFCT
"Theater has to resonate in your heart in a way that movies don't."

The quote, by Harvey Fierstein, speaks volumes, and might well be used to describe a soul-stirring and heart-aching production of "Steel Magnolias," currently playing at the North Fork Community Theatre in Mattituck.

Many remember the 1989 film version of Robert Harling's 1987 play, which was unveiled Off Broadway and later, in 1995 Broadway debut. The film version starred Julia Roberts, Sally Field, Olympia Dukakis, Shirley MacLaine, Dolly Parton, and Daryl Hannah, and left an indelible mark on the American public.

But before the film, the show opened at the WPA Theater, and later, was performed at the Lucille Lortel Theatre on Christopher Street in New York, where the intimate setting of a small theater gave poignant life to the piece, which was written after the death of Harling's own sister, a diabetic who suffered complications during the birth of his nephew.
Although the movie was a smash, there is something about seeing the show in a small theater that does the piece justice, and brings the exceptionally crafted dialogue to stirring life.

"Steel Magnolias" was born out of Harling's real-life loss, and the show's writing reflects the very real tears and emotions that surface as humans grapple with mortality. 

The play centers on a group of gossipy Southern ladies in a small-town beauty parlor, with scenes that run the gamut from laugh-out-loud hysterical to heart-rendering as they confront the painful reality.

"In the end, it draws on their underlying strength and love, which gives the play and its characters, the special quality to make them truly touching, funny and marvelously amiable company in good times and bad," NFCT said in a release.

The show centers on the women in the beauty shop: Shelby, the beautiful daughter of M'Lynn Eatenton, whose strong-willed personality is softened by her gentle heart and maternal yearning for a baby, a desire so fierce she risks everything to give birth to her little boy.

Amanda Mouzakes pours sweet determination into Shelby's character, and tempers her stubborn desire to do things her way with a taste of Southern charm and sincerity.

Despite the fact that she and her mother, played by Lisa Westfall, often come to a stalemate over issues such as Shelby's single-minded desire to give birth, despite the doctor's warnings, the fierce love they share shines through.

Westfall gives a powerhouse portrayal of a mother whose heart is broken after her daughter's death; her performance one of the finest seen on any North Fork stage. The roller-coaster of emotions reflected on her face as she rages against the cruel twist of fate that robbed her of her daughter is riveting theater at its best.

Catherine Maloney as Truvy, the owner of the beauty shop whose perky outlook and passionate concern for her clients makes the business a haven, is outstanding, as is Grace Phelan as Annelle, the innocent young woman who turns to God after life's twists and turns lead her down the wrong path.

Linda Aydinian gives a stand-out portrayal of the wickedly funny Clairee Belcher, and Marilee Scheer, as the ornery Ouiser Boudreaux, whose prickly exterior protects a tender heart, has the audience howling with laughter at her dry, witty deliverance of memorable lines.

"I'm not crazy," she said, with a straight face. "I've just been in a very bad mood for 40 years."

Set design by Charles Scheer is a glimpse straight into the old-time South, the beauty parlor as familiar as a favorite worn penny.

The friendships, captured with Director Robert Horn's insightful guidance, shine though: Even during the worst of times, it's the ties that bind women, the laughter that they share, that sustains them and sees them through. And always, the bottom line is that the beauty shop is about a lot more than perms and up-dos. It's the place where love lives, pure and simple.

Laughter through tears, Maloney's Truvy says, is her favorite emotion. And as the audience wipes away tears while howling out loud at the hilarious moments, those watching the play are joined together in one of the most emotional theatrical experiences they've undoubtedly ever shared.

Asked to describe why, knowing the dire risks, she would go forward with her plan to have a baby, Shelby's character says simply, "I would rather have thirty minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special."

"Steel Magnolias" is just under two hours of pure wonderful. Don't miss this performance.

The show will continue on Jan. 24, 25, 26, and 31, and Feb. 1 and 2. All shows are at 8 p.m., except for Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m. An opening night reception will be held on Jan. 17 at 7 p.m., with the curtain at 8 p.m.

For tickets, which cost $15, click here or call 631-298-NFCT. For more information contact director Robert Horn 631)744-2976 or producer Babette Cornine (631) 871-3908.


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