Pennington Players’ STEEL MAGNOLIAS: Heart Warming and Heart Breaking

by Arlene Price Kohler

STEEL MAGNOLIAS is a comedy-drama about the bond between a group of women in Chinquapin, Louisiana. It is both heart warming and heart breaking.

Left to right: Bobbi Mendel (Ouiser); Eve Connolloy (Clairee); Laurie Hardy (M'Lynn); Sally Page (Shelby); Morgan Petronis (Annelle); Malissa Arnold (Truvy) star in Pennington Players' STEEL MAGNOLIAS, playing at the Kelsey Theatre in West Windsor, NJ through April 3.

The 1987 play was written by Robert Harling, after the tragic death of his younger sister, Susan who was a diabetic. The entire play is staged in a beauty parlor and all the roles are female. The men and children are mentioned but never seen. The movie version came out in 1989 adding husbands, boyfriends, children, plus a few others. Frankly, I think the play works better.

The bond between the women is the real heart of this play and it gets the emphasis it deserves without the other characters. It could be played out in any city, in any beauty parlor, any office or any place where just women gather without the kids, husbands or boyfriends. The beauty of the story lies in what occurs between the six women, the way they relate to one another, using humor and compassion to see each other through life’s heartaches. The beauty of this cast is that they have created such “real women”…and “real life”.

Act One, which introduces us to the cast of characters, each portrayed as a very believable and real person, is essentially a series of comedic one-liners leading up to a teary tragic second act.

The one-liners are delivered mainly by Clairee. They are truly funny and Eve Connolly, who plays Clairee, delivers each one with a great sense of comedic timing. She portrays the role as a sassy, but sweet, wise, older gal. Her portrayal onstage is as flawless as her costumes (which she supplied). Love those peep toe shoes…are they my size? She has a somewhat snarky relationship to the cantankerous Ouiser, played by Bobbi Mendel, who also creates a most believable character. Morgan Petronis gives us a wistful, almost angelic Annelle; absolutely charming. Malissa Arnold’s Truvy is as brash as she should be but all heart under that big hair. Sally Page as Shelby gives us a wonderful performance, as an eye rolling, spoiled and priveleged young woman. I did not like her very much as a person (Shelby) and I am not sure her portrayal is what the author intended but her characterization is well done and very believable. Laurie Hardy is wonderful as M’Lynn. She has created a compassionate and weary woman who shows the stresses of her life in every posture, every movement and every line she delivers. She is brilliant in the tragic second act…the audience can feel her pain and were all moved to tears. It is a good thing that much needed beautifully packaged tissues are supplied in various areas throughout the theater, (a small donation is requested which goes to The American Diabetes Association).

Judi Parrish does a great job in her first directing venture. The set is beautiful and utilized well. As is fitting, because we women all know we could not get through this life without our ‘sisters’, the entire cast and crew are female. Get out and see this show, folks. It is well worth it. Unfortunately it only runs for three more performances, so hop to it!

by Robert Harling
Directed by Judi Parrish
March 25 – April 3, 2011
Pennington Players
at the Kelsey Theatre
Mercer County Comm College
1200 Old Trenton Rd
West Windsor, NJ 08550

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