Dothan, AL-born playwright Robert Harling seems to have an affinity for writing about women and their relationships – with themselves, with other women and with men. He also penned Soapdish, First Wives Club, Laws of Attraction, and The Evening Star (the sequel to Terms of Endearment). Steel Magnolias, now playing in Raleigh’s Kennedy Theatre as part of Theatre Raleigh’s Hot Summer Nights Series, is popular worldwide and has been entertaining audiences regularly in 17 languages since 1987.
Director Richard Roland leads a dynamite cast through the humorous, heartfelt story of Shelby and her challenges of marriage, motherhood and illness through the interactions of a small circle of tightly knit women who do their sisterhood-sharing in Truvy’s Beauty Salon. His blocking is superb, with something going on, even ever so slightly, at any moment. The use of the fourth wall as mirrors is handled excellently, especially with the crosstalk.
Scenic designer Chris Bernier has designed a realistic beauty shop, complete with two styling chairs, a nail table, a hair wash basin, coiffure photos from the 1980s, a cosmetics stand and, of course, a coffee corner and waiting-room sofa.
Costume designer LeGrande Smith has outfitted the performers in splashy colors, tight pants, pant suits, and overalls, befitting the characters and the times. And Eric Alexander Collins handled the radio broadcasts, and the radio’s unexpected orneriness.
The role of Truvy, owner of the salon and kind of de facto leader of the circle, is played by AC Donohue, energetically and sensitively. Her role is responsive and caring to all of the other women who come to her shop, and Donohue makes that concern genuine.
Robyne Parrish Lamb plays M’Lynn, the mother of Shelby; and her performance is so authentic that it easily unites with Shannon McCarren’s Shelby to make the mother-daughter relationship real. Her big moment, toward the end of the play, is gut-wrenching; and a twist is performed with Susan Russell as Claree that is phenomenal acting for both.
Shannon McCarren’s portrayal of Shelby is intense, a charming young woman who takes a dangerous chance with her own life, without making it a dramatic choice, and who also gives a frighteningly realistic performance of insulin shock.
Susan Russell is simply wonderful in the role of Claree, widow of the late Mayor and a prominent and rich gadfly. Commanding and friendly at once, engaging and concerned, and with a taut comedic timing, Russell makes a believable politician’s wife.
Pamela Dunlap, a profound onstage presence, plays Ouiser, a lovable, grumpy overalls-clad lady whose heart is bigger than all outdoors. Her sense of comedy is deep and enchanting. If it’s possible to have comic relief in comedy, she is it.
Morgan Parpan rounds out the ensemble with a tough characterization to perform, that of Annelle, whose life is getting shakier, and who is rescued by the salon ladies. Parpan manages the arc of her role magnificently.
Steel Magnolias is one in a long chain of fine entertainments Theatre Raleigh’s Hot Summer Nights has brought to downtown Raleigh. Don’t miss it!
Theatre Raleigh presents STEEL MAGNOLIAS at 8 p.m. July 28 and 29, 2 and 8 p.m. July 30, 3 p.m. July 31, 8 p.m. Aug. 3-5, 2 and 8 p.m. Aug. 6, and 3 p.m. Aug. 7 in the Sara Lynn and K.D. Kennedy, Jr. Theater in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, NC 27601.
TICKETS: $30 ($28 seniors).
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SHOW: http://www.theatreraleigh.com/ and http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/event/steel-magnolias-7207.
PRESENTER: http://www.theatreraleigh.com/, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Theatre-Raleigh/349124511834045, and https://twitter.com/TheatreRaleigh.
Steel Magnolias (1987 Off-Broadway and 2005 Broadway play): http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=1063 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/Production/551 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/steel-magnolias-386797 (Internet Broadway Database), 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://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/5616 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/robert-harling-392114 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Harling_%28writer%29 (Wikipedia).
Richard Roland (New York City director): http://www.richardroland.com/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/richard-roland-81185 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.facebook.com/richard.roland (Facebook page), and https://twitter.com/richroland.
Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on his website: http://www.chuckgalle.com/. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori review theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Boom! Magazine and here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.