When director Timothy E. Locklear was casting North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre’s Steel Magnolias, he was able to choose some very heavy hitters. The ensemble cast of six bring to the stage some very long pedigrees. This is Locklear’s third production of the play, which centers on Truvy Jones’s hair salon in Chinquapin Parish, Louisiana. The comedy is smart, but the play is about young Shelby, who is getting married today as the play opens. Shelby is diabetic, and the disease underscores every scene in the play.
We meet Truvy (Robin Parrish), the savvy and wise-cracking owner of the salon, as she is interviewing a new apprentice, Annelle (Lauren Knott). As the morning progresses we meet the bride, Shelby (Lori Ingle Taylor), her mother M’Lynn (Dee Penven-Crew), and other members of the parish: the former Mayor’s wife, Clairee (Christine Rogers), and the town curmudgeon, Ouiser (Mary Beth Hollman). These six friends are giddy with the upcoming wedding and are brought up short when Shelby experiences sugar low and needs to be brought out of it.
Diabetes is the elephant in the room throughout the play, as the show travels through time to Shelby’s pregnancy and birth of her son. While life goes on in Chinquapin, the disease hangs over the salon like a pall. It is spoken of as the girls natter, and some knock-down, drag-out arguments come between Shelby and M’Lynn, her over-protective mom.
In any production of Steel Magnolias, the set is an integral part of the show. As the play progresses, the girls are pampered, preened, and made beautiful as Truvy and Annelle work their magic. So the set has to work, from the sink where M’Lynn is rinsed to the working chairs where the ladies reside during their treatments. This two-tiered set, designed by Locklear, does just that, from the Christmas tree in Act I to the old radio that only works when struck. The only technical problem was the lighting. As to that, let’s just say that NRACT is in dire need of a new light board, and leave it there.
The ladies of Chinquapin are a mixed bunch, who love their men, and fight with them, and talk all about it with each other. As M’Lynn, a stalwart wife and mother not above stealing her husband’s pistol to keep him from terrorizing the neighborhood, Penven-Crew handled it all beautifully, and carefully controlled her breakdown in Act II. She balanced between being a loving parent and an overprotective one. Lori Ingle Taylor handled Shelby, rebellious and ready to get out from under her mother’s thumb, with just the right amount of spunk to keep her lovable while still being her own woman. Christine Rogers as Clairee was a dynamo, grabbing life by the horns. Rogers gave Clairee a sweet disposition and a charm that was infectious. Mary Beth Hollman was crusty and cantankerous as Ouiser, a curmudgeon who has been in a perpetual bad mood for twenty-five years. Hollman lent just the right amount of comic relief in playing the town bully.
The one problem with the performance was the pacing. It needed to be picked up. There were long pauses that should not have been there, and the overall pacing of the show was just too slow. There were times when the patter should have come thick and fast. It was as if these ladies were afraid of stepping on their fellow actors’ toes. The play needed to be tightened considerably.
Nevertheless, these six actresses know their stuff, and the play was still eventful and enjoyable. A talented and experienced cast and a tried-and-true director made Steel Magnolias a treat. The theater is easy to find on Leadmine Road in the Greystone Shopping Center. Come by and share a few laughs with the ladies of Chinquapin Parish!
Steel Magnolias continues through Sunday, October 26. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.