Review: Steel Magnolias, a Theater, Interrupted Production

I won’t lie. I love Steel Magnolias. It’s a sweet southern story full of humor, emotional swings, and strong women that are impossible to forget. The film, which hit theaters to great fanfare in 1989, was cast to perfection (Shirley MacLaine as Ouiser and Dolly Parton as Truvy in particular have always stuck with me in their roles). However, most who know the film may not be aware that it was based on a play, written by Robert Harling, which premiered in 1987.

There are notable differences in the storytelling structure from stage to screen, as one might expect. Film offers more opportunity to drift from location to location, following characters as they go, capturing every element of what takes place. The stage requires more subtlety. More story within singular locations. The stage version of Steel Magnolias takes place through several scenes within Truvy’s salon, over the course of nearly two years. There we meet Truvy, Clairee, Annelle, Shelby, M’Lynn, and Ouiser, as we follow the story of Shelby, from her wedding day to her funeral.

In the hands of Face to Face Films showrunner Anthony M. Laura, as a part of their Theater, Interrupted series of virtual productions, Steel Magnolias remains as vibrant and poignant as ever. Cast wonderfully, it’s a testament to the original material, and an ode to the power and strength of women who can cry, laugh, and stand tall against any obstacle.

As Truvy, Vivien Cardone conjures memories of Dolly, quick with her wit, charming to no end, and as captivating as ever. Chelsea Renae captures the “do as I will” nature of Clairee, flippant and owning every line. Rheanna Salazar beautifully takes on the innocence of Annelle, easily lifting the demure character in line with the powerhouse women she comes to know. As Shelby’s mother M’Lynn, Kristen Hasty brings equal doses of protective mother and loving caregiver, offsetting her daughter’s care-free nature. To which, it must be noted that Matigan Nagle’s graceful performance as Shelby cannot be understated. Michelle Miner’s take on Ouiser, a spitfire honest enough to admit she just been “angry for forty years”, is pure venom, harsh and brutal with the hidden heart revealed only in the story’s most tender moment.

The cast carried the production, bringing familiar characters to life as if they’d played them for years. And once again, Laura directs them with precision, leaving no doubt that he understands how to bring the most out of his team. If you are a fan of the film, or if you’ve seen the play, this production of Steel Magnolias is one you simply must watch. Stop what you’re doing, settle in with some sweet tea and chocolate, and laugh yourself to tears, so you can then cry yourself into laughter.

Review: Rabbit Hole, a Theatre, Interrupted Production

Theater, Interrupted, the ongoing web-series of theater performances by Face to Face Films, has offered its followers an non-stop stream of quality plays since the beginning of the pandemic. Though we await, with great anticipation, the opportunity to sit quietly in a darkened theater, drawn into the emotional journeys of characters, wowed by performances of ACTUAL ACTORS ON A STAGE, this series continues to fill the gap admirably.

With Rabbit Hole, director and Face to Face Films frontrunner, Anthony M. Laura tackles the grief of a family dealing with the loss of their 4-year-old son. Written by David Lindsay-Abaire (debuting on stage in 2006), the journey delves deep into the myriad ways in which we process grief and loss, and the damage we absorb along the way.

Starring Kristin Seavey and Gabe Calleja as Becca and Howie, mother and father to their late son Danny, we’re propelled into a world of anger and anguish. The duo not only carry the weight of the pain their characters feel, they connect us to their lives and to their struggle with ease and precision, leaving the viewer feeling less a body on the other side of a screen than a visitor in their home longing to help them make it right.

As Jason, the young high school student responsible for Danny’s death, Alex Commito brings warmth and innocence, opening our lens to grief through the eyes of a young man processing his sense of responsibility through stories and a need for closure. Through only a handful of scenes, Commito wastes nothing, his delivery and expression showcasing Jason’s struggle.

Nicole Townsend, as Becca’s sister Izzy, and Gabrielle Arles, as Becca and Izzy’s mother Nat, round out the cast with solid performances, bringing a sense of fullness to the family dynamic. Townsend, in particular, plays off Seavey in their shared scenes as only sisters can, stealing a good bit of the virtual spotlight along the way.

One hopes that the end is near. That the stage will again open soon. That we will be able to return and congregate to watch these fabulous performances. But for now, Theater, Interrupted continues to offer quality performances that quickly make one forget they are cozy at home watching on screen (for free at that!). Anthony M. Laura and the team at Face to Face Films should be commended, remembered, and supported wholly for all they do.

Sneak Peek at Sensing Astrid

A successful run of virtual performances hasn’t slowed down Face to Face Films frontrunner, Anthony M. Laura. In addition to his on-going Theater, Interrupted series of plays, Laura has dipped into the creative pool for his upcoming original series, Sensing Astrid. Following the life of a young actress struggling to manage multiple personalities, Laura returns to a strength showcased in 2019’s The Girl With the Red Hair. With an eye for the emotional torment of a fractured mind, Laura delves into the struggles of young Astrid with the delicate touch of a master.

Though the series will arrive to audiences later this year, Face to Face Films recently offered a sneak peek into the world of Astrid by way of four short scenes. Covering a year plus of Astrid’s life and introducing a few characters pivotal to her journey, these four scenes open a world of questions and intrigue.

The writing is on point. Articulate and concise. Nothing speaks to this more than the lingering need to know where her story goes from here. As sneak peek’s go, this one was less a teaser than a full on heart-gripping tattoo on the soul.

This short collection is utterly and decisively stolen by Rand Faris, in the lead role of Astrid Regan. From the opening scene, her emotional connection to Astrid is vibrant and potent. As we delve into the multiple personalities plaguing her mind (Taylor, her current role in film, is an active presence from the second scene on), Faris digs in. Deep. Through her performance, thirty minutes of struggle with Astrid feels like a lifetime of torment. By the time we reach the final scene, in the office of Astrid’s therapist, we are gut-punched by the weight of her pain. Describing her recent role as Taylor, she describes a moment in which Taylor took over. “I couldn’t find Astrid. Then suddenly I was back. And it wasn’t great,” she says.

Joined by Megan Schmitt and Nicole Townsend, in the roles of Bailey and Celine, with music by Philip Lauto, Sensing Astrid is a brilliant opening to what should be a difficult, but captivating, series. Waiting for the next installment is the hard part.

Review: The Nina Variations, a Theater, Interrupted Production

Theater, Interrupted, the series of virtual theater performances created by Face to Face Films director and writer Anthony M. Laura, has offered a consistent run of quality theater over the past year, despite the pandemic. The frustration over our inability to sit and see these takes on stage has waned as the production and performances have gained in momentum.

Their latest, The Nina Variations, written by Steven Dietz is no less impressive.

Company singer Madison C. Gray, opens with a cappella versions of On My Own, from Les Miserables and her haunting rendition of When September Ends by Green Day. She is a great talent and leading these performances with her soothing tones sets the mood for the story that follows.

Taken from the final scene in Anton Chekov’s The Seagull, The Nina Variations is a complex, yet straightforward, take on the difficulties of human emotion, born within the love and devotion to an idea never to be realized. Over 42 scenes, the audience is offered alternate endings to Chekov’s classic work. Though separate and disconnected, they give a full view of the relationship between the writer, Treplev, and Nina, the actress he loves.

Kristen Seavey plays the role of Nina, a young woman blessed with a depth of innocence, humor, and unwavering affection for Treplev’s rival, Trigorin. She captures the full spectrum of Nina’s playfulness and heart with precision, leaving little doubt to the full range of her acting ability.

Matching her scene for scene, Prentice Myles carries the weight of Treplev’s distress and melancholy as if it were his own. He captures the raw excitement of an artist driven by the presence of Nina, while adeptly dipping into the unrelenting chasm of despair in the man’s desperation for Nina’s love.

The performances of Seavey and Myles make The Nina Variations a must watch, despite the overall complexities of the play’s concept. Familiarity with The Seagull does make the viewing an engaging take on the culmination of a classic but is hardly necessary.

Review: RFK, a production by Theater, Interrupted

Face to Face Films took its cue from the global pandemic in 2020, offering fans of the theater an opportunity to see and experience quality productions from the cozy confines of home. While props and music and staging has evolved since the initial production, the talent and direction has remained top notch.

For its latest production, Theater, Interrupted staged the one-man performance of RFK, written by Jack Holmes.

To begin the production, Face to Face company singer Madison C. Gray welcomed the audience with beautiful acapella renditions of Song of Silence and American Pie, setting the stage for the emotional journey of Robert Kennedy with a haunting sweetness.

Staged at the desk of RFK, the fiery politician framed by an American flag and portrait of sailboats, director Anthony M. Laura gives an online audience the presentable look of a staged performance. Accompanied with music by Philip Lauto, the experience of streaming theater is no longer a novelty, but rather a pleasant and welcomed new normal. With RFK, Theater, Interrupted has once more shown that theater can be an experience to behold, no matter where or when it is viewed.

RFK begins in 1964 and covers the span of 4 years, as Robert Kennedy copes with the loss of his brother, struggles with his political future, the enemies he made as Attorney General, his place in the family, and finds a voice during a time of civil unrest and war.

Dan Kelly portrays Robert Kennedy with an engaging mix of passion and uncertainty, channeling the insecurities and frustrations of a charismatic politician who could never live up to the towering shadow cast by his brother, John F. Kennedy. Kelly brings charm and flair, capturing the heart and charisma—and Boston accent—embodied by RFK.

From the opening scene nine months after his brother’s assassination, to his appearance in the 1968 primaries that brought an end to his life, the journey of RFK is well told, conceived beautifully, and a performance to be remembered.