Friday, May 31, 2013

Review: (Ottawa) Steel Magnolias

(via company website)
Delicate and Strong
by Jim Murchison 

Robert Harling’s play is a well written if at times predictable story set entirely in Truvy’s hair salon in the fictional Louisiana town of Chinquapin in the 1980’s. The play had a long run Off Broadway and of course was a very popular star-studded film. 

Unlike the film version there are no men in the play, save the voice of the local radio announcer which sets the tone and the time of year between scenes. That is just fine because the story is about how 6 strong willed women deal with day to day trials and tribulations in this sleepy little southern town where everybody knows your name and your business.

Whether it was because the cast was concentrating on the slow southern drawl or trying to convey the heat in a place where 39 degrees Fahrenheit is considered arctic conditions, it took a little while for the pace to get going and the humour to sink in to the audience.  

From that point forward the gumbo got just a little spicier

By the time Charlotte Stewart entered as the perpetually crabby Ouiser, the relationships started to focus and the audience jumped on board. Stewart gets to deliver a lot of sardonic one liners which she did with a gusto that seemed to provide the final ingredient the cast needed to let loose. From that point forward the gumbo got just a little spicier, the relationships coalesced and a pretty fine ensemble established themselves on the stage. 

Suzanne Castanza as Truvy is a pretty likeable hostess with just enough of a tongue to make you want to listen but not enough to make her clients mistrust her. Kirby Naftel plays the bumbling but affable Annelle finding her way in her new town after some troublesome personal circumstances, with an apt and awkward righteousness.

Maureen Quinn McGovern is quite wonderful as the perky wisecracking Clairee, wife of the now deceased mayor. She and Stewart have some great exchanges and provide some great fun.

Shelby and mother M’Lynn round out the cast of characters. Shelby is played with an interesting combination of rebellious stubbornness and old fashioned values by Chandel Gamble. 

Linda Webster as M’Lynn has an easy relaxed quality that makes her final outburst of anger and pain all the more effective. It’s the love that these characters have for each other that makes it work well.

Director Tom Taylor obviously respects the story and just lets it unfold. Whether the cast is playing the mood of an ambling river on a laconic summers day or the dangerous raging flood waters after the levy breaks, there is a genuine love and community feeling that comes through in the playing. There’ll be lots of places to laugh and those that like a good cry certainly won’t go away disappointed either. 

runtime: approximately 2 hours 25 minutes with one intermission
Steel Magnolias runs until June 15

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