"Steel Magnolias," at Provo Theatre Company
by Eric D. Snider
Published on February 18, 2000
When you hear "Steel Magnolias," you probably think of the 1989 "chick-flick" starring Dolly Parton, Sally Field and a bunch of other women. If you're a man, you probably roll your eyes; if you're a woman, your eyes might well up with tears.
I will not deny that the stage version of "Steel Magnolias," currently opening Provo Theatre Company's 1998 season, is probably more appealing to women than men. All six characters are women, after all, and all the "action" (such as it is) takes place in a beauty parlor in the South. It's a comedy, mostly, but a very gentle one, and much of the humor is geared toward women. And yes, at the end, you are obligated to cry.
None of which means men shouldn't see it. On the contrary, good theater is good theater, and Provo Theatre Company knows what it's doing when it comes to good theater. Under the direction of Susan Whiteknight (who also plays the crotchety Ouiser Bordreaux), PTC's "Steel Magnolias" is a bit uneven, yet ultimately satisfying and entertaining.
The six women who spend each Saturday at the salon are endearing souls. Truvy Jones (Julie Crow Williams) is the sassy owner of the salon, saying things like "There's so much static electricity in this room, I pick up everything except money and boys" and "Time marches on, and eventually you realize it's marching right across your face." Annelle (Melanie Nelson) is her naive, overly religious assistant; Clairee (Ruth Allred) is the rich-but-nice aging debutante; M'Lynn (Toni Edson) is a fairly normal, non-descript gal whose daughter Shelby (Amber Edson) is getting married when the play begins; and the aforementioned Ouiser is rich-but-grumpy (but of course has a heart of gold underneath).
The entire play consists of the six of them (or various combinations of the six) sitting around the salon gabbing. Sometimes it's funny; sometimes it's touching; in the end, it's heart-breaking, as Toni Edson gives a wonderfully real performance. Through all the yakking, bickering and gossiping, we learn how much we, ourselves, would do for our loved ones, and how much these six fictitious women seem like people we can relate to. The bond of sisterhood among them really is touching.
The play is not without its flaws. On the night I saw it, several lines were flubbed, and sometimes they were punchlines -- lines that would have been funny, had they been delivered better. Also, the costume changes between scenes necessitate some rather lengthy waiting in the dark, which can make an audience lose interest.
Still, the two women sitting directly behind me apparently loved the show to pieces. In fact, they couldn't stop talking about it from the moment it began until the moment it ended. (They weren't very good at whispering, either.)
And even though I'm a guy, I liked it too. Parts of it drag, and parts of it aren't as funny as they should be. But when the emotion is called in, it's right there, front and center, making guys like me start to -- well, start to feel the emotion.
Now if you'll excuse me, there's something in my eye....
Copyright © Eric D. Snider.
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