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St. Louis by Richard Green

Steel Magnolias
Dramatic License Productions
Chesterfield Mall

Also see Sarah's review of Duet For One

Steel Magnolias
Sally Eaton, Donna Weinsting, Colleen Backer, Laurie McConnell and Kim Furlow
"Tis an ill wind that blows no good." And though Shakespeare wasn't talking about what the recession has done to our shopping malls, his wisdom still applies today. Lately, the downturn that's raised warnings of a commercial property collapse has also sparked a very good new opportunity for St. Louis theater groups, some of whom are taking over those sad, abandoned suites at suburban shopping centers as a result. Dramatic License Productions now joins the trend and, thanks to them, our moms (and our kids) could soon be coming home from the mall with something more than just another arm-load of shopping bags.

In this case, thanks to Robert Harling's Steel Magnolias, they'll come home from Chesterfield Mall with hearts filled with laughter and the spirit of camaraderie that jumps off of every page in his 1987 Southern-fried comedy. And if (like me) you'd never seen the play itself, but only know the story from the movie, you'll be in for a delightful surprise: the two treatments bear only a textual resemblance to one another. Where the movie was mawkish and self-aggrandizing, the play (here directed by the masterful Annamaria Pileggi) is as brisk and bright and real as its cast of well-known local actresses.

Laurie McConnell is Truvy (the Dolly Parton role in the movie), who runs a beauty parlor out of her home in Chinquapin, Louisianna; and in the opening minutes she's auditioning a new stylist who desperately needs a job. Ms. McConnell is more of a Bonnie Raitt type than a Dolly Parton, with her long red hair, and seems ideally suited to encouraging and gently pushing her clients, helping them live up to the impossible standards of feminine beauty.

Colleen Backer is Annelle, a tremulous abandoned newlywed (the Darryl Hannah part) and, like Ms. McConnell, she seems right at home dispensing dubious beauty tips in this sanctuary from a world of women's troubles. Technically, this could be considered a slight step backwards for Ms. Backer (in terms of casting). After years of "damsel in distress" roles, she's risen at long last to be known for her hysterically funny portrayals of dangerously modern women. But we're lucky to have her in any case, and no doubt she embraced the chance to work with this fine cast and director, regardless of the part. Conversely, Sally Eaton plays the snarling Ouiser Boudreaux, in what amounts to an excellent departure from her almost inevitable turns as good-hearted women-of-a-certain-age, making this performance one that's both unusual and (as usual) well-worth seeing.

Donna Weinsting is right on par as the wise-cracking Clairee (Ouiser's permanent nemesis), and Kim Furlow and Stephanie Brown are perfect as the mother and daughter who spur much of the action along. That relationship is powerful and profound as the story develops, and without their contributions, all the other magnolias would soon droop and wilt. But, thanks to the (now and then) emotionally jagged nature of the mother/daughter dialectic, the play is perfectly formed—as they prepare for a wedding, and then a baby, and the terrible complications that ensue.

Through February 20, 2010, near the Sears store in the southern section of Chesterfield Mall. Enter by the Houlihan's restaurant, and cross past the elevator balcony to the theater entrance inside the mall. For more information call (636) 220-7012 or visit them online at www.DramaticLicenseProductions.com.

Cast
Truvy Jones: Laurie McConnell*
Annelle Dupuy-DeSoto: Colleen Backer
Clairee Belcher: Donna Weinsting
Shelby Eatenton-Latcherie: Stephanie Brown
M'Lynn Eatenton: Kim Furlow
Ouiser Boudreaux: Sally Eaton
DJ Voice: Jim Modglin

* Denotes member, Actors Equity Association

Crew
Director: Annamaria Pileggi
Stage Manager: Justin Rincker
Technical Director: Ian Stoutenburg
Scenic/Lighting Designer: Sean Savoie
Costume Designer: Teresa Doggett
Sound Designer: Joseph T. Pini
Properties/Set Decoration: Peggy Knock
Properties Assts./Running Crew: Lynda Clark, Lauren Kissel, Eliza Davidson
Board Operator: Katie Donnelly


Photo: John C. Lamb


-- Richard T. Green

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