"Steel Magnolias," at The Villa Playhouse Theatre (Little Brown Theatre)
by Eric D. Snider
Published on February 18, 2000
Bill and Marilyn Brown's new Little Brown Theatre, across the street from Springville's increasingly respectable Villa Playhouse Theatre, is the perfect intimate setting for Robert Harling's funny and personal "Steel Magnolias."
Though often considered a "chick play" (and admittedly, there's not a single man in the cast), this production is likable and witty, regardless of the audience's gender.
Set in a beauty salon in rural Louisiana, the play covers nearly three years in the lives of six women. Each of the four scenes takes place many months after the last, and thanks to some very smooth dialogue, we learn everything that has gone on.
When we begin, it's Shelby's (Sharee Gariety) wedding day. Her mom, M'Lynn (Robinne Booth), is proud as can be, but worried about her headstrong daughter. Shelby is diabetic, and doctors have said she shouldn't have children -- but when, in a later scene, she announces she has become pregnant, she insists she will have the baby no matter what.
There are more surprises and heartaches in store, and the play shows how these strong women -- these "steel magnolias" -- use humor and love to work through them.
The entire cast is likable, though Claudine Boothe is a standout. Her character, the widow Clairee, is a sassy old gal without being a stereotype, and Boothe's portrayal of her comes off as sweetly real.
Gariety is a natural as Shelby, too, as is Booth as her mother. Booth is the only one who gets to show much intensity of emotion, and she handles her scene well.
Arlene McGregor is hysterical as the cantankerous old spitfire Ouiser, spitting out lines like, "The only reason people are nice to me is that I have more money than God."
In fact, this play thrives on that sort of attitude-heavy Southern talk. Someone is described as not having opposable thumbs; someone says she looks "like a dog's dinner"; someone is said to be so confused, "he doesn't know whether to scratch his watch or wind his butt"; someone else is troubled, but it's "nothing a handful of prescription drugs couldn't cure."
Kaye Pead as salon-owner Truvy and Darcy Moody as new-girl-in-town Annelle round out the cast. Pead seemed unsure of many of her lines on the third night of performances, and Moody overplayed her nervous, "I have a dark past" routine a bit too much, but both eventually fell into their roles adequately.
I've seen this play before, but I don't remember finding it nearly as funny as I did this time. Kudos to a mostly nimble-tongued cast and a veteran director (Kathy Llewellyn) for a show that draws its audience in even closer than they already are in the tiny Little Brown Theatre.
Copyright © Eric D. Snider.
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