BWW Review: Tex-ARTS Presents Entertaining Version of STEEL MAGNOLIAS

STEEL MAGNOLIAS is a comedic drama written by Robert Harling, based on his experience with his sister's death. It is about the friendships and families of a group of Southern women in northwest Louisiana. The title references how these women are both delicate and strong. One of the most produced plays in America, you'd be hard pressed to find someone who has never seen at least the film version.

It was first a short story Harling gave to his nephew to provide the child with some understanding of his deceased mother. Over a ten day period, it evolved into an Off-Broadway play. Harling felt it was important to include the way humans often use humor and lighthearted conversations to cope with serious situations. He wanted audiences to have a true representation of what his family endured during his sister's experience.

STEEL MAGNOLIAS opens on Shelby's wedding day in the fictional northwestern Louisiana parish of Chinquapin. The women have gathered at Truvy's beauty parlor where all of the action of the play takes place. The action covers a three year span and shows the friendships of the women. Along the way, we see Shelby's decision to have a child despite possible complications, Clairee's friendship with Ouiser; Annelle's transformation from a shy newcomer to good-time girl and finally to repentant revivalist Christian. While the main storyline involves Shelby, her mother M'Lynn, and Shelby's medical battles, it is the underlying friendships of these women that the story is truly about.

Director Christina J. Moore has done an impressive job with the material, managing to avoid becoming maudlin as some productions of this show do. I found her blocking to be solid and the characterizations to be of real women, not Southern caricatures. I was also impressed by how fast the scene changes were executed. I also really liked Donna Coughlin's scenic design. There are some wonderful vintage touches to her beauty parlor set, although I was puzzled by the fact that the stage left end was open with pictures hanging on non-existent walls. It seemed jarringly out of place with the rest of her lovely stage design. Stephen Pruitt's lighting design was quite good, as were the costumes and wigs by Natalia Luna and the properties by Andrew Hatcher. Technically, the show is rock solid.

The real reason, though, to see any production of STEEL MAGNOLIAS, is the six women on stage... and this is a top notch cast that doesn't disappoint.

Babs George, as M'Lynn, is simply marvelous. She gives us that sharp, dry Southern wit while managing to convey more in her silences than many actresses do in a two page monologue. Jenny Lavery, as Shelby, is absolutely charming. Kudos go out to director Moore for actually casting two women who look like they are related.

Linda Bradshaw, as Clairee, and Sheila Lucas, as Ouiser, have most of the best lines in the script and each of those classic interchanges land perfectly. There is an obvious chemistry between the two actresses that serves the characters well.

Allison Orr, as Truvy, and Aly Jones, as Annelle, offer fresh approaches to their characters that work nicely. This is especially true of Jones, who keeps Annelle's transformations in the believable range, strongly grounding the character.

In all, this is a very good production of an often produced show that will leave you satisfied with your time spent in Chinquapin, Louisiana.

STEEL MAGNOLIAS by Robert Harling.

Running time: Two Hours and Twenty minutes, including one intermission.

STEEL MAGNOLIAS, produced by Tex-ARTS, playing in The Cam & James Morris Theatre (Erin Doherty Studios, 2300 Lohman's Spur, Suite #160, Lakeway, Tx.) Running through Oct. 25 at 7:30 p.m.; Oct. 25th @ 2:00 p.m. Individual tickets start at $40. Reservations: at www.tex-arts.org or call the Tex-ARTS Box Office at 512-852-9079 x101.

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From This Author Frank Benge

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