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BWW Review: STEEL MAGNOLIAS at Theatre Raleigh

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What better way to spend a hot summer night than seeing "Steel Magnolias" at Theatre Raleigh's Hot Summer Nights?

Theatre Raleigh's summer series is beginning to wind down, but it's definitely not cooling off. July 27 was opening night of its production of "Steel Magnolias," the play by Robert Harling (who later adapted it into the movie starring Sally Field, Julia Roberts, Shirley MacLaine, and Dolly Parton).

The play is based on Harling's sister, who died from complications from diabetes when she was only 32. It's about more than illness and death, though; it's about the South, women's relationships, and resilience.

Robyne Parrish, who played M'Lynn, said that being in "Steel Magnolias" helped her explore her Southern roots; in fact, she said she thought that M'Lynn might be similar to the person she would have become if she had stayed in the South, where she grew up.

Parrish said ever since she moved to Raleigh four and a half years ago, she's wanted to work with Lauren Kennedy, and she was "so excited" that when she had the opportunity to do so, it was in "such a great play" - one that is especially meaningful to Southern women but that offers a "little slice of life" that everyone can relate to.

I asked her what it was like playing a role made famous by Sally Field in a beloved film. She said she forced herself not to watch the movie while she was preparing for the role; while she was very familiar with the "iconic" movie, and the play is very similar, she wanted to "see the story with new eyes" and make the part her own - and I can attest that she accomplished that goal.

In fact, the entire cast did, portraying their characters honestly, entertainingly, and emotionally. Parrish said that the actors drew from their own life experiences and supported each other through the tougher scenes, as did director Richard Roland, whom she described as supportive with "a lot of patience and grace."

"You really...want to show up for the people who are going to identify with M'Lynn," she said. Her final scene, in which she portrays a grief-stricken mother, unsure how to reconcile her anger and anguish with the strong face she tried to show the world, was powerful. She demonstrated not only what it might be like to survive your child - "I'm supposed to go first!" - but also how being with your friends can help you let go, and maybe even begin to recover.

Parrish as M'Lynn and Paroan as Annelle
Photo credit: Curtis Brown Photography

The play wasn't all tears - at least, not tears of sadness. In fact, the only real criticism I have is that there were a few lines I missed because the actors spoke them before the audience stopped laughing. Between Pamela Dunlap's biting Ouiser, Susan Russell's sly Claree, Truvy's (A.C. Donoghue) ability to make anyone smile (à la Dolly Parton), Shelby's (Shannon McCarren) fiery independence, and Morgan Parpan's innocent Annelle, I was doubled over in laughter more than once.

"Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion," says Truvy in the final scene. That one line pretty much summed up the relationships of those steel magnolias and the entire play itself.

"Steel Magnolias" is playing through August 7 at Kennedy Theatre.


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From This Author Taryn Oesch

Taryn is a copyeditor and freelance writer in Raleigh, where she is a behind-the-scenes member of the theatre community. Her favorite plays/musicals are Next to (read more...)