NORTH BEACH, Md. — It is a universally recognized truth that whenever tragedy strikes, you can either choose to laugh or cry at the arduous circumstances that have befallen you. The beauty of live theatre lies in its capability to explore these communally endured experiences through the lighter lens of comedy, to delve further into the pain produced by them, and thereby find catharsis. The Twin Beach Players (TBP) of North Beach, have elected to tap into this phenomenon with their latest production of Steel Magnolias.
Originally produced Off-Broadway in 1987 and later famously turned into an Academy Award-nominated film starring acting legends such as Julia Roberts and Dolly Parton, Steel Magnolias is a play written by Robert Harling that tells the story of six women in Louisiana in the 1980s as they navigate family, friendship, love, and loss over two years.
Born out of Harling’s personal experiences of loss in his own family, a beautifully accurate portrait of feminine community is depicted with comforting clarity through this story.
Rachel Cruz serves as both set designer and director for this production, as is historically customary for TBP. Her set design is composed of a simple, yet intricately executed 1980’s southern hair salon that feels like something plucked directly out of time with its judicious use of floral wallpaper and color accents of pastel pink and green.
Various set pieces such as manicure accouterments, functional salon chairs, a hair dryer, and a hair-washing sink really work to bring the world of this play to life with an authentic clarity that allows the audience to fully immerse themselves into the story from the moment they enter the theater.
Throughout the story, the progression of time is conveyed subtly through simple set decorations such as an autumnal wreath or Christmas tree being brought on and off of the stage. Cruz does an excellent job of visually balancing the set without making it feel too crowded or chaotic.
Cruz’s direction brings welcomed nuance to the story and its characters that allows the audience to vicariously experience these six women’s joy and pain through the years. Her strategic use of brief pauses throughout to punctuate the gravity of different moments and the utter hilarity of others is a welcome creative choice.
The pace remains perpetually lively and never delves into the tedious at any point during the show, which is rather miraculous when it is taken into account how many random conversational asides exist in the script.
Watching this show feels like sitting in an actual 1980s southern hair salon trading the local gossip and personal struggles with your girlfriends, thanks to Cruz’s heartfelt direction.
While all six of these women create a beautifully harmonious vibe with the seamless way that they play off of and support each other, I found two actresses to be of particular note – Julie Fox as Truvy and Jeanne Louise as Ouiser.
Fox is a ray of sunshine every time that she graces the stage with her presence. She fills Truvy with an unadulterated sincerity that practically leaps off of the stage, while also delivering some genuinely hysterical moments of humor with her original interpretations of various lines. Louise fills Ouiser with a tenderness that I have never seen the character possess before.
Typically, Ouiser is portrayed very differently. Here, Louise breathes new life into the character that makes her feel more like a fun, sarcastic, and quirky aunt than a crabby, hardened, and unamused lady. Her animated facial expressions and comedic timing had me hollering with heartwarming laughter. Here’s hoping the community theatre gods hear my prayer to have her cast in many future productions in the area.
I’m just going to say it – this is a show for absolutely every adult, regardless of their age, sex, or geographical location. I’ll be honest, I enjoyed this production so much that I brought my husband back with me the following night, and he told me afterward that he felt completely captivated by the story the entire time!
Steel Magnolias tells a story that taps into the beautiful humanity of us all and this particular production of it is in more than capable hands at TBP. Do yourself a favor and buy your tickets now before they sell out.
The approximate run time is 2 hours and 20 minutes with one fifteen-minute intermission.
This show contains brief use of sensitive language and innuendos.
This Friday, September 23rd, and Saturday, September 24th will include a “Ladies’ Night” with a signature cocktail, wine, and beer along with other refreshments for sale before the show and during intermission.
Steel Magnolias will be playing at the North Beach Boys & Girls Club located at 9021 Dayton Avenue North Beach, MD 20714 through September 25th, 2022.
For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit their website here (https://www.showtix4u.com/event-details/66713).
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Writer’s Note: Elizabeth Campbell, who plays Anelle in this production, is a dear friend and sister of mine. Due to this, I will not be mentioning her in this article to maintain my artistic integrity.