Have you ever appeared in a production of Steel Magnolias? Were you ever sleeping with someone appearing in Steel Magnolias and, consequently, had to see it? Considering the ubiquity with which this comedy/drama has been produced since its 1987 off-Broadway debut it seems inconceivable to me that one of those statements doesn’t apply to you.
Steel Magnolias continues through August 18. Little Lake Theatre, Canonsburg. 724/745-6300. www.littlelaketheatre.org
A case in point – me. Not only have I lost track of how many times I’ve reviewed the show but somewhere back in the long ago I directed a production of this story about six Southern women hanging out at a beauty parlor. Another case in point – Lora Oxenreiter. This Little Lake Theatre production is at least the second time she’s directed it (and I believe I’ve sat through all of them.) Another example, Italia Nowicki mentions in her program bio that this is the third time she’s played the character of Annelle.
That’s a lot of hairspray!
Watching the show unfurl at Little Lake, however, the reason for its evergreen popularity is clear – Steel Magnolias is a very funny play. The author, Robert Harling, would go on to write funny several more times including First Wives Club, the TV show GCB and a personal favorite Soapdish.
Harling’s women use humor and a wry smile as defense against life’s vicissitudes, he has a very deft hand at set-up/punch line and knows precisely how to land a joke. And an especially big plus of Steel Magnolias is that it offers six juicy roles for women, something not always true in the art world.
Of course it’s not all rainbows and lollipops in Steel Magnolias-land; Harling also possesses a tendency toward mawkish sentimentality – for instance the doomed Shelby saying: “I’d rather have 30 minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special!” No matter how many times I hear that line it still makes me throw up a little bit in my mouth. Harling indulges himself in several more beats of a similar nature with my eyes in serious danger of rolling up into my head.
But, then again, I’m just a bitch so others might feel differently. Actually, when you think about the show’s popularity, others obviously do.
Oxenreiter certainly knows her way around the material and has cast enjoyable performers splashing about in Harling’s comedic sandbox. Kauleen Cloutier and Joyce Miller are having so much fun as Truvy and Clairee that their delight is infectious and fuels much of the production. Lynnelle Goins gives the role of Ouiser an amusing snap and growl. The previously mentioned Nowicki has a delirious sense of comedic timing which, due to the nature of Annelle, she doesn’t get to let fly too often. The thankless task of staunching the laughter to inject the teary plot is left to Ellen Emery as Shelby and Carol Ann Schussler playing M’Lynn. Emery does winsome with huge sincerity and Schussler’s breakdown is worth the wait.
You should definitely check out the show because at some point you’re going end up in a production and the sooner you start learning your lines the better.
Ted Hoover is Pittsburgh Current’s theater critic. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org