Playcrafters’ STEEL MAGNOLIAS Sparkles

by He Said/She Said

(He Said….)

by [author 3]

Playcrafters of Skippack opened last night with STEEL MAGNOLIAS by Robert Harling. This is the well-known show about Truvy Jones and the ladies of Chinaquapin Parish, Louisiana who come to Truvy’s beauty salon. STEEL MAGNOLIAS is what the more chauvinistic of us would classify as the theatre equivalent of a “chick flick” and as such is the perfect subject for a He Said/She Said set of reviews.

Upon entering the theater, we see the interior of Truvy’s salon. Set Designer David Stangl did a great job of creating a working environment for the ladies that is both intimate and open. As the show opens, we are instantly transported to Louisiana with Truvy (Sandie Rollins) giving Annelle (Alathia Joy Campbell) a working interview. They are soon joined by the other ladies; Ouiser (Regina DePaolis), Clairee (Nancy Kadwill), M’Lynn (Lauren Rozensky Flanagan) and Shelby (Ashley Werner.) Michael Nelson “appears” on stage as the disembodied voice of the radio DJ.

Sandie Rollins and Ashley Werner in a scene from Playcrafters of Skippack's production of STEEL MAGNOLIAS running through October 9.

As Truvy, the focal point around which the stories revolve, Rollins gives a stellar performance. Her character is consistent, real, and sincere. When she was the main focus on stage, there was a real electricity. Kadwill as Clairee shines as the widow of the town’s mayor who grows into a businesswoman. Her interplay with the other characters was a lot of fun. Werner’s Shelby shows a wonderful growth in her character, beginning as a somewhat-spoiled bride to be, and growing into a mature, realistic woman. DePaolis’ Ouiser was delightful…a grouchy neighbor lady with the hidden heart of gold. She was able to show her character’s true love for her friends through the crusty exterior. Campbell did a solid job as Annelle…her line delivery was at times very rushed and sounded scripted, but I attribute much of that to opening night jitters and inexperience. Her relative youth will serve her well as the production progresses, and she has a very fine cast to learn her craft from. Special mention must be made of the performance of Flanagan as M’Lynn. The relationship between M’Lynn and Shelby is a very tricky one to carry off, and both Flanagan and Werner did a beautiful job of portraying the complexity of that relationship. Flanagan has a lengthy scene in the second act that was incredible…the pacing and intensity of the emotions had many in the audience in tears.

I was a bit surprised to see that this production had a male director…the complexity of the relationships lends itself more easily to a woman. However, Chip Breithaupt (ably assisted by Alison Januzelli) did a wonderful job of allowing the story to tell itself, as well as bringing out all of the emotional subtext of the script. The pacing was wonderful, never dragging, and the subtle looks and reactions of the actors were very well done. The costumes were wonderful, adding the right touch of the South to the characters. The lighting design was very good except for one very annoying dark spot on Stage Right…please correct that! The execution was a bit erratic…the lighting tech has a very heavy hand and hopefully will learn subtlety of lighting changes as the production progresses.

Shows such as STEEL MAGNOLIAS can be very dangerous for a theater to perform, as there is not much in the way of plot. The story line is about the relationships among the characters in the play. Playcrafters has put together a terrific production, keeping everyone in the audience engaged for the entire evening. Congratulations to this stellar cast, and best of wishes for a very successful run.

(She Said….)

by [author 9]

Put six women together in a beauty salon and what do we have? Gossip, gossip and more gossip, of course. Furthermore, when a group of women are together anywhere, we have an instant support group like no other. Together we solve our personal problems; we stick together like glue. This is the premise of STEEL MAGNOLIAS, referring to six southern ladies in Chinquapin (no, it doesn’t exist), Louisiana in the 1980’s.

Playcrafters of Skippack (PA) presents STEEL MAGNOLIAS, by Robert Harling, whose writing was based on the death of his younger sister suffering with diabetes. This proved to be Mr. Harling’s catharsis which enabled him to deal with her death. The show appeared off-Broadway in 1987, was made into a highly successful film in 1989 and finally made it to Broadway in 2005.

Our “steel magnolias” are the following: brassy Truvy, owner of the salon, who manages to keep everyone and everything together; shy, soft-spoken Annelle who seems to grow in spirit before our eyes; aggressive Clairee, the mayor’s wife; sweet Shelby who is to be wed the very day of the performance; her mother, M’Lynn, who, though seemingly over-protective toward her daughter, is a very caring mother; and Ouiser, tough, loud, brash and gutsy. Supposedly, they are tough as steel, yet delicate as lovely magnolias. Over a three-year period, we follow them as life deals them their cards, some good, some not.

Although the performers went through their paces and places in this small, but adorable, theatre, it was difficult to hear and understand all but Truvy (Sandie Rollins) and Ouiser (Regina DePaolis). (I really don’t have a hearing issue, folks.) The other four characters could have been more enjoyable if their performances would have been more “out there”, i.e., more animated via speech, facial expressions and body language. (That back wall wasn’t that far away.) Also, there might have been a more lively atmosphere if music on the radio could have been playing between scene changes. One hit on the radio before all were exiting the stage might have been appropriate.

Truvy and Ouiser, you rock!

If you like to have a good cry or a good laugh (chuckle?), STEEL MAGNOLIAS might just be your “thing”. You might even find that you can relate to one or more of these characters. And…you might need a GPS to get there.

Till the next show…

by Robert Harling
Directed by Chip Breithaupt
September 23 – October 9, 2010

Playercrafters of Skippack
2011 Store Road
Skippack, PA

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