Also see John's review of Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life
Steel Magnolias covers a two year time period in the lives of six women in the small town of Chinquapin, Louisiana. Truvy's beauty shop (converted from her home's garage-port) is the center of the action. It is not only where these women meet to have their hair done, but where they socialize and share their lives. Together they build friendships that serve as fortresses against those things around them might otherwise cause despair.
Truvy hires a new assistant named Annelle on the morning of a busy day of work. One of her long time customers and friends, M'Lynn, is the mother of a bride-to-be whose wedding is that very day. Truvy and Annelle perform a day of beauty for a couple of their regular customers: Clairee, the stylish widow of the late mayor; Ouiser, the town's resident grouch; M'Lynn and her daughter Shelby. The women share a day filled with excitement and hope through stories of love, marriage and children. Shelby's only regret is that her doctor has informed her that she should not have children of her own due to her severe diabetic condition.
Seven months after being married, Shelby tells her mother that she is pregnant, and she is determined to have the baby, despite the serious risks to her own health. Though her son is born healthy, the damage to Shelby's kidneys leaves her requiring a transplant. She approaches her failing health without regret in her choice to have her son. Though M'Lynn is able to give Shelby one of her kidneys, the transplant fails, and Shelby passes away. In the lives of these women it is inevitable that along the way, there will be loss as well as joy, and they help each other survive with the strength and grace that makes them "steel magnolias."
Lisa Manuli shines as Shelby in this otherwise spotty production. The Caldwell has taken some truly fine actresses and miscast, misdirected and badly costumed them in this version of an extraordinarily good script. Elizabeth Dimon is physically cast against type as Truvy, the beauty shop owner. Whether large or small, it is clear that the character of Truvy is a girlie-girl. One would imagine that she looks at all the style and fashion magazines she provides her customers and replicates those trends in a K-Mart chic kind of way. Miss Dimon looks like she is dressed for cleaning the house rather than running a beauty salon, in her flat shoes, plain jeans and boringly simple tops. Angie Radosh as Clairee is missing the effervescent quality and lady-like style of the character. She lowers her speaking voice in a mannish way and daubs at imaginary lipstick/spittle in the corner of her mouth that makes her character puzzlingly butch. The costumer has not used Miss Radosh's lovely figure to show the tailored suits and elegant accessories one would expect from a wealthy and well-traveled widow of the late major. Laura Turnbull is well cast as M'Lynn but too frequently assumes a sour tone of voice early in the play that weakens the scene in which she has her emotional breakdown. An audience is not as likely to feel tenderly toward someone who has not shown them much of her own tenderness.
While Pat Nesbit is good as Ouiser and Margery Lowe is enjoyable as Annelle, the dynamics of the characters are thrown off by the direction of Truvy, Clairee and M'Lynn. Most of the actresses also have surprisingly inconsistent southern accents that are random rather than regional. Lisa Manuli's performance as Shelby is genuine and true. Her Shelby is possessed of an energy that is both youthful and womanly, rather than just the resident ingenue. The only flaws in her performance are the stagnantly staged scene in the second act when she tells her mother she is pregnant, and a hideous pink houndstooth dress worn in the second act that her style-conscious character would not have been caught dead in.
The Caldwell's wonderful set by Tim Bennett nears perfection with its homey 1980s feel and window views of Truvy's backyard and side of the house. It is marred only by the reflection of a stage light which glares at the audience in the middle of the center window throughout the show. There was also an errant sound cue of a radio playing about five minutes into the show on the night attended.
Production dates for Steel Magnolias at the Caldwell Theatre Company are December 30, 2006 - February 11, 2007. The Caldwell Theatre Company is a professional theatre company hiring local and non-local Equity and non-Equity actors. The Caldwell Theatre Company is designated by the State of Florida as a Cultural Institution and receives funding from the State of Florida through the Florida Department of State, the Florida Arts Council and the Division of Cultural Affairs. They are located at 7873 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton, FL 33487-1640 in the Levitz Plaza. Look for the theatre's proposed relocation to their new space in the North Boca Village Center, where it will be housed in the Count de Hoernle Theatre. For tickets and information, you may contact the Caldwell by phone at 561-241-7432 or visit them on line at: www.caldwelltheatre.com.
*Indicates member of the Actor's Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.