Friday, January 19, 2018

Review of "Steel Magnolias"

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Midway through the first act of the resplendent production of Steel Magnolias, playing at Playhouse on Park, one of the ladies at Truvy’s Beauty Salon states, “This is woman’s territory.”  How true.  In Robert Harling’s genial and tenderhearted play, the six woman of Chinquapin, Louisiana rule the roost.   There lives, from the mundane and everyday, to life changing moments, are warmly and affectionately celebrated.
 
Dorothy Stanley as Clairee, Susan Slotoroff as Shelby (photo Meredith Atkinson)
All the action of the show takes place in the small southern town’s beauty parlor where, at first, the local matrons are gathering to fuss and chitchat about the upcoming wedding of hometown girl, Shelby.  The conversations and playful banter between the women, as the bride-to-be gets primped and styled, come off as natural and unforced.  We learn about each character—the high-spirited Shelby; her petit, but dynamic mother, M’Lynn; the perky salon owner, Truvy; her young and na├»ve assistant, Annelle; the deceased Mayor’s wife, Clairee; and the wise-cracklng resident, Ousier.  The dramatic highpoint of the production comes towards the end as tragedy strikes one of the central members of this tight-knit group.
 
Jill Taylor Anthony as Truvee, Peggy Osbourne as Ouiser, Susan Slotoroff as Shelby, Liza Couser as Anelle, Dorothy Stanley as Clairee (photo Curt Henderson)
Harling has written a play where not much really happens beyond idle chatter and juicy gossip.  There’s a lot of this and that.  Problems and scenarios are presented and easily resolved.  Still, even with the matter-of-fact slice-of-life plot lines, the characters resonate with the audience.  They are encouraging and affectionate of one another and we, in turn, grow to care and become supportive of them.  In a way, the show is like old-fashioned, satisfying comfort food.  It makes you feel good and leaves you blissfully content at the end.
 
Liza Couser as Anelle, Jill Taylor Anthony as Truvee (photo Curt Henderson)
The cast has an easy, unmistakable rapport with one another.  They are led by Susan Slotoroff as Shelby.  A Playhouse on Park regular, the actress does a fine job radiating optimism and a full-of-life bravado.  Jeannie Hines has the role of the overly protective, worrisome mother, M’Lynn, down pat.  Jill Taylor Anthony is buoyant, yet sensible as Truvy, the mostly unflappable ringmaster of the group.  Liza Couser’s Annelle shows growth and purpose, the one character that undergoes any transformation during the production.  Dorothy Stanley’s Clairee, widowed, but whole-heartedly alive, brings forth a vitality and intrepidness to her role.  Peggy Cosgrave’s Ousier is a pistol.  Audacious and disagreeable to a fault, she adds needed comic relief whenever the air gets too heavy.
 
Liza Couser as Anelle, Jill Taylor Anthony as Truvee, Peggy Osbourne as Ouiser, Susan Slotoroff as Shelby (photo Curt Henderson)
Susan Haefner has a laid back, easy-going manner with her direction.  She skillfully maneuvers the cast members around Set Designer David Lewis’ realistic, homespun beauty parlor without the actresses remaining too static and passive.  She produces a relaxed, almost informal mood on stage that is more deftly planned and executed rather then mere happenstance.  Occasionally, the characters are edged to the corners of the three-sided performing space, which impedes the audience’s sight lines, but this problem is a minor one.  Ms. Haefner adroitly handles the play’s climatic scene with tact and compassion.

Steel Magnolias, a breezy and engaging production, playing through January 28th.

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