Tag Archives: Regional Theatre

“Steel Magnolias” at Triad Stage

I just came in from seeing “Steel Magnolias” at Triad Stage here in Greensboro.  And it was good.

I know Triad Stage and other Regional Theatres need to do crowd pleasers like “Steel Magnolias”.  They bring in a large audience, that will hopefully come back again for other shows and help to build an audience for live theatre.  Shows like this also bring in a lot of cash.  But they also create an interesting experience for Season Ticket holders, like me, who would not have gone to see “Steel Magnolias”  if it were not part of the Season.  It gives us the chance revisit plays from our pasts. And sometimes these new visits surprise us.

As usual, at Triad Stage, the production values were wonderful and the acting was excellent- all that we expect from Triad Stage.

The problem, for me,  was the play.

I’ve probably seen “Steel Magnolias” too many times, both on stage and film, but it has been several years since I’ve seen it.  I’ve probably also heard the lines too many times, but in this production, there did seem to be some laugh lines that were missed.

And you know what?  It just wasn’t as good a play as I remembered from seeing it  years ago.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of heart in this show, some memorable characters and some funny lines.  You can’t help but be drawn into the lives of and care about these upper middle class Louisiana women.  But don’t look too closely at the play itself.  The first scene, in particular, goes on way too long…

I was also surprised at how rooted “Steel Magnolias” was in the 1980’s and how dated it seemed now.  Times have changed so much more than I realized since the times in which this play was set.   I’m not sure the cultural references make sense to anyone under 40, but then that’s not “Steel Magnolias” audience.

And it was almost a full house on Easter Sunday.

If you love “Steel Magnolias”, go see this production.  Especially if you’ve never seen it on stage and only know it from the movie.  You won’t see a better production with so many fine actresses around here any time soon.  It’s definitely a pleasant evening in the theatre and it received a standing ovation at the end of tonight’s show.

Just don’t be too surprised, either,  if the magic just isn’t there.  It’s not that they don’t try and succeed, on so many levels, at Triad Stage.  It’s just that the play itself isn’t as good as I remembered it being all those years ago…

And that might be the adjustment that I’m struggling with…

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“Providence Gap” at Triad Stage: My Thoughts and Review

I just got home from the longest night I have ever spent in a theatre.  I hate to be negative, but friends don’t let friends see bad theatre.  I have seen hundreds of shows in my life and nothing prepared me for the mess that is “Providence Gap”at Triad Stage here in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Let me start by saying I love Triad Stage.  We have been season ticket holders since they first opened.  We have seen every production they have ever mounted.  I donate money to them.  Often, they do wonderful work.  But when they miss, they miss big.  “Providence Gap” is a huge miss.

Let me also say Preston Lane, who I do not know personally, can be a wonderful director.  “Picnic”, an old warhorse of a play that I was dreading, turned out to be a magical evening in the theatre– largely due to his direction.  He has created magic many times in the past at Triad Stage.  Just not when he is writing/adapting and directing at the same time.  Starting with “Julie’s Dance”, most adaptations or new works I recall that he has both written and directed have been, at best,  tedious.  I couldn’t even look him in the eye as we left tonight I was so embarrassed for him.

Let me also say that Laurelynn Dossett wrote and performed some beautiful music.  However, it was lost in this mess of a show.  In every collaboration she does at Triad Stage, her music is always the high point.  The book of the show is always the low point.  And usually the Direction.

For the record, I also simply hated their previous collaboration “Beautiful Star”.  I know it sold well for Triad Stage, but it was still, at best, mediocre.  It seemed to me to be more appropriate for the Barn Dinner Theatre than a professional company like Triad Stage.  “Bloody Blackbeard” had great music and a wonderful set, but seemed like a rough draft of a show.  “Providence Gap” has beautiful music, but seems like, at best,  a very rough first draft of a show.  Laurelynn’s music is usually the only saving grace of these collaborations, but even she couldn’t save this mess.  I would have bought the CD, but I didn’t want to risk mental flashbacks to the show.

I felt sorry for the very talented actors.  Most of them are from UNCG-G’s Theatre program.  They were all extremely talented and did the best that could be done with what they had to work with in “Providence Gap.”  The best thing I can say to them is to be grateful that they learned early in their careers what it’s like to be part of a really bad professional show.

There were about 4 or 5 plays in “Providence Gap.”  It could have been a fascinating story about how “hillbillies” came down from the mountains to work in the cotton mills.  It could have been a fascinating story about mountain people.   But, Mr Lane was overly ambitious.  We did not need a 2 and a half hour allegory.  It did not work.  We did not need to hear it as representing the 20th Century changes in lifestyle for mountain people.  If I had heard the phrase “Twentieth Century” from the narrator/ MC one more time, I think I would have climbed over the seats and beaten him with my program.  The woman character “representing” the 20th Century was confusing, annoying and should have been cut.  The Radio Show format simply did not work.

The characters were poorly developed and, as the man behind me said, “turn on a dime”.  These were sketches, not characters.  They were not “real” people.  And, while I know what he was trying to do,  the character names seemed  more appropriate to a Jackie Collins novel than mountain people in the early 20th Century.  The plot was both obvious and contrived.  It was totally predictable and the prediction was not good.

As I said, I felt sorry for the actors and appreciate their fine work in making these characters as honest as they could.  They did not have a lot to work with in the script.  I hate to say it, but there really was not a book here.  At least not a coherent one.  Especially not one worthy of Laurelynn Dossett’s music.  I hope she steps away from this type of collaboration before her reputation is tarnished by association.  She deserves better than this…She and her fine musicians were misused on stage in this show.  They were neither fully integrated into the show nor appropriately featured to “comment” on the action.  This was part of the weakness in both the book and the direction.

Usually, one can at least love the set in a Triad Stage production.  Even that did not work tonight.  It was boring and depressing with no focal points.

I really hate to be so harsh in this review, but I look at it as “tough love”.  Triad Stage needs to stop this foolishness before they hurt their reputation even further. I did not hear one positive word from anyone in the audience tonight.  I’m sure there were some people who liked it, but I didn’t hear it.  All I heard walking back to the car were comments similar to mine.

I must say, it is admirable that they are trying to feature North Carolina History and music but, frankly, this is not working.  I can’t be an enabler.

I beg Triad Stage to end the Appalachian saga while they are behind, but before they further damage their reputation.  This was, frankly, abysmal.  They don’t need this kind of word of mouth when they are trying to build and retain an audience during tough economic times.  They are too important to us in the Community for me not to call them out on this–even if no one there reads it.

But then, who am I to judge?  I’m just a guy who sees a lot of theatre, in a lot of places, who won’t be seeing anything else in this genre at Triad Stage.  You couldn’t pay me enough.  I can’t even think of anyone to whom I would do the disservice to give them our season tickets for something like this show.  I was embarrassed for them that they put this on their stage.

As a supporter of Triad Stage, I’ve had my say….I just hope we can move on to bigger and better things next season.  I wish Laurelynn Dossett and all the talented actors all the best.  Triad Stage and Preston Lane can and should do better…


Filed under Entertainment, Greensboro, North Carolina, Theatre