BWW Reviews: STEEL MAGNOLIAS One of the Best Performances Ever at the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre
Steel Magnolias by Robert Harling is currently playing at the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre in Kansas City, Mo and is one of the best productions to appear on their stage. If you can see only one play this spring, this should be the top of your list. Directed by Marc Liby the play is the comedy-drama about the relationships of a group of Southern women and based on Harling's experience with his sister's death. The title comes from the reference to a magnolia tree early in the show and shows the women as beautiful as the magnolia and strong as steel.
Liby who was Executive/Artistic Director of the Great Plains Theatre, recently moving to the Kansas City area where he lives with his wife actor Ashley Pankow. Bob Paisley with the Met stated Steel Magnolias is Liby's first production since moving to Kansas City from Wichita. If this show is any indication of what he can bring to the plate then Wichita's loss is Kansas City's gain.
There does not appear to be any supporting roles in this production, as each of the six actors perform so magnificently they all are leading ladies. Kenna Hall stars as Annelle Dupuy-Desoto, the nervous newcomer to the city and the beauty salon. Her performance is wonderful especially her facial expressions and body language which tell a story without speaking a word. These movements develop the character from the nervous newbie to the experienced lady of the circle.
Stefanie Wienecke portrays Shelby Eatenton-Latcherie, the young woman who comes to the salon to have her hair done on her wedding day. Wienecke has a wonderful sense of comedic timing, using vocal infliction and facial expressions to draw out the humor. Shelby is a diabetic who while sitting in the chair goes into what appears to be insulin shock. Wernicke's acting is tremendous as she takes the young woman from an elated emotional state to one of dark depression and non-responsive behavior.
Truvy, played by Nancy Nail, is the owner of the salon where the women gather. She is delightful to watch as she takes her character from hiring Annelle to demonstrating that the women are more that customers but true friends.
Marilyn Lynch does such a wonderful performance as Ouiser Boudreaux, that you wonder if she got a release from the asylum to be in the show. Her character adds wonderful humor to the mix, and she pulls it off flawlessly.
Licia Watson superbly plays M'Lynn Eatenton, Shelby's mother. She holds herself and Shelby together in Act I as she deals with the wedding and Shelby's diabetes. Act II brings another side of M'Lynn that had not been show before. Watson shows that she can play drama with the best of them as the mother who flies into a rage as she tries to understand what has happened to her family.
Clairee Belcher, played by Peggy Friesen, is the other customer in the salon. As she skillfully delivers her lines, they are so natural you forget you are in a theater. Watch Clairee late in the second act for one of the funniest scenes of the play.
Though you are sitting in a theater filled with retired church pews, Karen Paisley has done such a fine job with the set design, that the salon seems real (right down to the running water).
Steel Magnolias continues at the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre through May 4. Purchase tickets on the Met website or call the box office at 816-569-3226. Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre.