Steel Magnolias

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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.

This was the first show in the new Little Brown Theatre, located right across the street from the Villa Playhouse. It's a cute little theater, and well-suited for shows like this one. The Browns have done much for community theater in Springville, and they are to be applauded for their hard work and dedication.

Imagine my surprise when, on March 6, The Daily Herald printed the following letter to the editor -- a letter which, despite having much competition, was declared THE STUPIDEST LETTER I'VE EVER RECEIVED. Enjoy.

I've lived here for seven months and have read Eric Snider's remarks several times. I quit reading his column because he is so negative. I did read lately, however, Mr. Snider's reviews of two local plays, "The Sound of Music" at the SCERA in Orem and "Steel Magnolias" at the new Little Brown Playhouse in Springville. My daughters and I saw both of these plays and enjoyed each one. Snider panned "The Sound of Music" [that I did: the review is here] and did not give "Steel Magnolias" the credit it deserved. The six actresses in "Steel Magnolias" moved seamlessly from one act to the next, covering a period of two years. [Three, actually.] Emotions ranged from hilarity to heartbreak. The setting is cozy and close to the stage. We moved here from Austin, where theater prices ranged from $20-$60. Granted some were big-name shows such as "Cats" and "The Phantom of the Opera," but Utah Valley should be proud of what it has here -- great talent, entertaining shows and affordable ticket prices. I don't know what Eric Snider's credentials are [I suspect I could be William Shakespeare, and my credentials still wouldn't matter to her], but go see the local shows and make your own decision.

Kaye Nelson
Provo


Why is this THE STUPIDEST LETTER I'VE EVER RECEIVED? Because I gave "Steel Magnolias" a very glowing review, with only one minor complaint about two actresses (tempered with "but both eventually fell into their roles adequately") -- yet this letter still has the paralyzing stupidity to tell me I "did not give 'Steel Magnolias' the credit it deserved.'"

Here's what Kaye Nelson says about "Steel Magnolias," followed by what I said in my review:



HER: "The six actresses ... moved seamlessly from one act to the next, covering a period of two years." ME: "The play covers nearly three years in the lives of six women. ... and thanks to some very smooth dialogue, we learn everything that has gone on."
HER: "Emotions ranged from hilarity to heartbreak." ME: "funny" ... "personal" ... "surprises and heartbreaks" ... "likable and witty."
HER: "The setting is cozy and close to the stage." ME: "The Little Brown Theatre ... is the perfect intimate setting" ... "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 theater."

So Kaye Nelson basically retold my review in her own words, even while criticizing me for not being nice enough to it. The amount of misguided gall and downright hare-brainedness of such an act wins this letter the award as THE STUPIDEST LETTER I'VE EVER RECEIVED.

Congratulations, Kaye Nelson of Provo!

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