BWW Review: STEEL MAGNOLIAS at Playhouse On Park
"Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion", states salon owner and southern sage Truvy Jones in Robert Harling's STEEL MAGNOLIAS. No line describes better the audience's experience while viewing this hilarious and touching play. This is especially the case in this, the latest offering at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford. A cast of six stellar women bring these residents of Chinquapin Parish, Louisiana to vivid life and nimbly share the highs and lows of life in this colorful small town.
For those unfamiliar with Robert Harling's play (or the Oscar nominated 1989 film adaptation), STEEL MAGNOLIAS centers around Truvy's (a beauty salon located in the enclosed carport of her suburban Louisiana home) and five women who are regular customers of the shop. Truvy (Jill Taylor Anthony) is the quick witted and sassy beautician/owner and Annelle (Liza Couser) her shy and mysterious new employee. Visiting the shop during four seasons of life in the small, Northwestern Louisiana town are M'Lynn (Jeannie Hines), her daughter Shelby (Susan Slotoroff), the former mayor's wife, Clairee (Dorothy Stanley) and the curmudgeonly loveable Ouiser (Peggy Cosgrave). STEEL MAGNOLIAS begins with the excitement and joy of young Shelby's wedding and ends with a tragedy that, though difficult, the women help each other get through the best way they know how (thus the previously mentioned laughter through tears). In between, the audience witnesses the gossip, barbs, and expressions of love these women have for each other, often through hilarious and quotable dialogue.
Each and every one of the six women on stage in Playhouse on Park's STEEL MAGNOLIAS is a gem in her own unique way. Ms. Taylor Anthony's Truvy is caring, quick with a word of advice and frequently the mother hen of the group. She makes the character her own and brings a Delta Burke-like southern charm to the role. As Annelle, Ms. Couser is awkward, yet sincerely funny throughout the play. Her character grows the most over the course of the play, going from shy, clumsy newcomer to one of the family by the end of the night. Ms. Stanley delivers some of the best moments of the night as Clairee Belcher. She acts the role of matriarch of the bunch and her comic timing is often quite brilliant, delivering some of the funniest lines of the play. Playhouse on Park regular Susan Slotoroff brings an energy and zest to the role of Shelby and as her mother, M'Lynn, Jeannie Hines delivers some of the most emotional and moving scenes of the night. Finally, as the grumpy (but loveable) Ouiser, Ms. Cosgrave is both fiery and vulnerable and gets some of the heartiest laughs from the audience.
With STEEL MAGNOLIAS, Playhouse on Park has once again picked a play that is perfect for its intimate space. The audience gets to peek inside the sacred space of these women and see the real life struggles and triumphs of their lives. Susan Haefner's direction takes advantage of the fast-paced dialogue and the routine actions of the characters (quite a bit of real hairstyling happens on stage). David Lewis's set is pitch perfect for the time period (and the location) and Kate Bunce's costumes add the exact touches needed to punctuate the 1980's style.
Whether you have seen it dozens of times or if this is your first visit to Truvy's you are certain to come away from Playhouse on Park's STEEL MAGNOLIAS with a smile on your face, a tear on your cheek and a warmth in your heart that can only come from spending time with such lovely and loveable characters.
STEEL MAGNOLIAS runs at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford, CT through January 28th. For more information, call 860-523-5900 ext. 10 or visit www.PlayhouseOnPark.org. Playhouse on Park is located at 244 Park Road, West Hartford, CT 06119
Bottom Photo: Jeannie Hines as M'Lynn, Liza Couser as Anelle (photo Meredith Atkinson)