Theatre ReviewsTom Williams

Steel Magnolias

By Robert Harlingsteel magnolias hubris productions

Directed by Lavina Jadhwani

Produced by Hubris Productions

“The only thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to accessorize.” – Clairee

Steel Magnolias, by Robert Harling, is a remarkable play in many ways – particularly because it has such a tender women’s point of view despite being written by a man. Steel Magnolias is part comedy of manners, part heartfelt tearjerker, featuring non-stop witty banter. Basically, a friendship comic drama, Steel Magnolias tugs at the heart while making us laugh. It is much more than merely a “girl’s play.”

Steel Magnolias by robert harling

True, it has cuts, clips, nails and gossipa “beauty parlorsetting; Steel Magnolias is set entirely within a beauty parlor (nice set designed by John Whittington), where the women gather to laugh, gossip, cry, and offer friendship and understanding to each other in a safe, man-free environment.

Many feel that Harling’s comic drama to be insightful and accurate about the way women respond to life’s serious crises, such as illness and death, and how they draw strength from relationships, even when those relationships are tempered by differences of taste or opinion. It is curious that women generally seem to agree that Harling’s characters are absolutely convincing, as if they had been drawn from life after extensive and careful observation. Watch the reaction of audiences and you’ll find everyone laughing.

Steel Magnolias by robert harling

Steel Magnolias is a touching group portrait of women that celebrates their strength without being sentimental. It appreciates humor and irony without being patronizing. The play is charming yet powerful with laughs.

The women include the Jesus freak, Annelle (Jessica Maynard), the crotchety Ouiser (Lorraine Freund), the frail Shelby (the winning Sara Pavlak), matronly Clairee (Sharon Roseri), and Shelby’s mother M’Lynn (Stephanie Wooten-Austin) who all weekly gather at Truvy (Calidonia Olivares) ‘s beauty salon to gab and get their hair done. Consisting of four scenes set over three years, Steel Magnolias chronicles the events of women who could be anyone’s family or neighbors, whose problems could, and do, happen to everyday ordinary people.

Steel Magnolias by robert harling

The action is set 1986-88 in Truvy’s beauty salon in Chinquapin, Louisiana, where all the ladies who are “anybody” come to have their hair done. Helped by her eager new assistant Anelle (who is not sure whether or not she is still married), the outspoken, wise-cracking Truvy dispenses shampoos and free advice to the town’s rich curmudgeon, Ouiser, (“I’m not crazy, I’ve just been in a bad mood for 30 years”); an eccentric millionaire, Miss Clairee, who has a raging sweet tooth; and the local social leader, M’Lynn, whose daughter, Shelby (the prettiest girl in town), is about to marry a “good ole Southern boy.”

Filled with hilarious repartee and a few acerbic but humorously revealing verbal encounters, the play moves from comedy toward tragedy when, in the second act, the spunky Shelby (who is a diabetic) risks her life with pregnancy . Sudden events brings home life’s mortality to everyone in the group.

The cast wins us from the start as we meet the kind Truvy, played with low keyed down home honesty by Calidonia Olivares. Jessica Maynard, as Annelle, nicely depicts the young impulsive hairdresser while Sharon Roseri nails the wit and wisdom of the rich widow, Clairee. Lorraine Freud aptly has the biting wit of a sarcastic older woman, Ouiser. Stephanie Wooten-Austin is the controlling yet loving mother of Shelby, M’Lynn while Sara Pavlak, in her Chicago debut, stars as the lovable, shining human spirit, Shelby. Pavlak is charismatic, charming and sweet. Her performance anchors the play. The rich Southern accents and the comrade was truthful giving the play a winning authenticity. You laugh and cry with this beautiful tribute to friendship, community and the power of the human spirit.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

At the Greenhouse theater, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL, call 773-404-7336, tickets $25, $20 student/seniors with Thursdays industry $10, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission.

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