Most people (especially those of the Southern variety) are familiar with Robert Harling’s “Steel Magnolias.” Even if they haven’t seen the stage version, almost everyone has had the pleasure of seeing the popular film version, starring Dolly Parton, Julia Roberts, Sally Field, and a host of other female greats. Just in case, the story all takes places at sassy Truvy Jones’ (Robin Parrish) beauty shop. And while, at first glance, the show might seem like nothing more than a collection of gossip-filled vignettes into the lives of the ladies who frequent the shop, it’s so much more. Through the conversations that take place at Truvy’s, audience members are taken on a journey- a journey that explores what it means to be a woman, what it means to be a mother, and perhaps above all else, what it means to love and to be a true friend.
At the heart of Harling’s perfectly-written script, rich with dialogue so authentic it’s practically alive and fully developed characters who definitely are, is young, idealistic Shelby (Lori Ingle Taylor) and her mother M’Lynn (Dee Penven-Crew). Like most mother-daughter relationships, theirs is a rocky one. Shelby seeks to be fiercely independent and to call the shots in her own life, in spite of her severe diabetes, while her mother M’Lynn wants to protect and shelter Shelby.
Penven-Crew does a solid job with the complex role. Though she treats the script’s more emotional scenes (and there are some real tearjerkers) in a more understated, carefully controlled way than one usually sees with this production, she breathes new depth into the character through her choices. Conversely, while Ingle Taylor does sometimes make the beloved character charming, she tends to overact and play Shelby’s subtle quirks for big laughs, often making the character more cartoonish than authentic.
Perfectly hitting the nail on its comedic head, however, are Christine Rogers’ Clairee and Mary Beth Hollmann’s Ouiser. These are characters written for that extra punch of humor, and both ladies provide that with gusto. Hollmann is particularly hilarious, using a gruff voice and just the right air of irreverence to make her character a star player.
And then, of course, there’s the precious Annelle, a troubled young woman- or maybe just a young woman- who, in an effort to find herself, goes through several “reinventions” throughout the course of Harling’s script. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect Annelle than young Lauren Knott, who recently wowed audiences in NRACT’s Xanadu. Thanks to excellent and constantly-changing hair and wardrobe choices and to Knott’s chameleon-like ability to slip into different personas while still retaining an endearing, innocent quality, Annelle and her journey of self-discovery is brought to full and authentic life.
Director Timothy E. Locklear, who is no stranger to “Steel Magnolias” (this marks his third time directing the show) seems to have a firm grasp on the delicate balance of humor, sentiment, and good ol’ “girl power” that this show must have to be successful. He has coaxed powerful performances from most of his magnolias, and the production evokes that special blend of magic that makes “Steel Magnolias” so widely loved and appreciated.
North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre presents STEEL MAGNOLIAS at 8 p.m. Oct. 17 and 18, 3 p.m. Oct. 19, 8 p.m. Oct. 24 and 25, 3 p.m. Oct. 26 at 7713-51 Lead Mine Rd., Raleigh, NC 27615, in the Greystone Village Shopping Center.
TICKETS: $16.52 ($13.41 students and seniors).
BOX OFFICE: 919-866-0228, firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.brownpapertickets.com/.
SHOW: http://www.nract.org/upcoming-productions/steel-magnolias and https://www.facebook.com/events/1512006709012235/.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.nract.org/, https://www.facebook.com/NRACT, and https://twitter.com/NRACT.
Steel Magnolias (1987 Off-Broadway and 2005 Broadway play): http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=1063 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steel_Magnolias_%28play%29 (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Study Guide: http://www.thepublictheatre.org/education/study_guides/1997-98/Steel_Magnolias.html (The Public Theatre of Lewiston, ME).
Robert Harling (Natchitoches, LA playwright): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Harling_%28writer%29 (Wikipedia).
Timothy E. Locklear (Wake Forest, NC director): https://www.facebook.com/telock335 (Facebook page).
Susie Potter is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer and editor. She is a 2009 graduate of Raleigh’s Meredith College, where she majored in English. She holds graduate degrees in teaching and American literature from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. In addition to her work for Triangle Arts and Entertainment, she is an award-winning author of short fiction. Her works have appeared in The Colton Review, Raleigh Quarterly, Broken Plate Magazine, Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley, the Chaffey Review, and Existere. To read all of Susie Potter’s Triangle Arts and Entertainment articles and reviews, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/susie-q/. To read more of her writings, click http://www.susiepotter.com and http://www.myspace.com/susiepotter.