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REVIEW: Steel Magnolias

Lea Stock and Danny Willis’s exactingly-directed production, carefully cast with talented actors, explored every nuance of Robert Harling’s multi-layered roller coaster all female play.

 

Steel Magnolias is, undeniably, an ensemble piece in which every character is essential to and integral within the plot. Each player in YOUtheatre’s staging had a thorough grasp of their place in their small Louisiana town as well as their relationship with each other in Truvy’s beauty shop, the hub of the wealthy community.

 

Elayne Teague brought out the salon proprietress’s warmth, ready to pamper her clients but not above listening out for the local gossip. Her affection for and willingness to help the initially gauche newcomer, Annelle, subtly portrayed by Helen Clark, who grows in confidence as she finds religion, was apparent from the start.

 

Gale Smith exuded the generally calm yet far from austere authority expected of Clairee, widow of a leading citizen, who becomes a powerful business woman in her own right. How well she was contrasted by Lynne Smart-Steel’s intimidating battleaxe Ouiser, whose only soft spot seems to be for her mangy dog. Said to be ‘richer than God’, her idea of fashion rarely stretches beyond ill-matched dungarees and T-shirt.

 

Ligia Kowalska showed young bride Shelby’s quiet determination to establish her own personality and to conceive her own baby despite the risks due to diabetes. If hers was the least overtly assertive voice, she compensated with excellent facial expressions and body language, never better than during the sudden, violent attack she suffered on her wedding morning.

Helen Andrews gave a sincerely moving, meticulously-built speech as M’Lynn, Shelby’s mother, who recalls her daughter’s death, despite the gift of her kidney, in a scene in which she seemed to age physically. It was a performance of the highest calibre.

 

Accents sounded natural throughout. Cue-bite and, equally vital, pauses brought reality to every exchange.

 

Occasional dress and minor décor changes barely interrupted the action.

 

The two level stage design brought as much credibility to the salon as the Myers Studio’s small space allowed, even if it was not possible to bring in much awareness of the world outside except by way of occasional offstage sound effects off plus the voice of Olly Reeves, the unseen radio announcer.

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