Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Also see Gil's reviews of Annie, Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead, The Trial of the Catonsville Nine, The 1940's Radio Hour, The Bad Seed, and Jaws: Live, Abridged and Completely Underfunded
Set in the mid-1980s, Harling's somewhat autobiographical play focuses on a group of women who reside in a fictitious Louisiana town, with all of the action playing out in Truvy's garage which has been made over into a small, hometown beauty salon. The plot begins with bride-to-be Shelby and her mother M'Lynn stopping by Truvy's to get their hair done for Shelby's wedding later that day. The recently widowed Clairee and the cantankerous Ouiser, who lives next door to M'Lynn, also stop by to get their hair done, gossip, and talk about the events in their lives. Adding to the drama, Truvy has recently taken in the shy, nervous Annelle, who isn't very forthcoming about the events in her past, to help her out around the shop. The story follows this group of tight-knight friends over a three-year period as the events in their lives, both comical and tragic, play out.
Harling's play is very well crafted, with six very different, defined and rich characters. The dialogue is realistic and very funny at times, and the situations encountered are life experiences that anyone can relate to. Director Roger Prenger has found six strong actresses to portray these lovable characters, and his staging and pacing work well to ensure the humorous moments get laughs while the emotion-filled scenes tug at your heart. The actresses exhibit a natural bond, closeness, and chemistry with each other that makes it believable that they've known each other for years.
As M'Lynn, Mary Pat Wallace is the forceful voice of reason who is constantly concerned for the welfare of her diabetic daughter. M'Lynn tries to be reserved and hold her emotions in check even as life events spiral out of control. Wallace's portrayal of M'Lynn's emotional outburst toward the end of the play is incredibly moving and realistic. Avery Volk is good as Shelby, the stubborn, headstrong girl who is always optimistic and tries to live life to the fullest, even though she has a constant stream of obstacles to overcome. As Truvy, Angela Kabasan is full of heart, love, and motherly advice for the group of ladies. Hilary Hirsch is quite good as Clairee, the wealthy woman in town who doesn't know what to do with herself, now that her husband has died, until she realizes there is a world outside still left to explore. Noël Irick is an absolute hoot as the cantankerous, loud and lovable Ouiser. Toward the end of the play, Irick beautifully shows that Ouiser has a big heart beneath her rough exterior. Sarah Brisco is fine as Annelle, the quiet girl who is flustered at first but changes and grows as she becomes more independent.
Prenger's staging is realistic, especially with Kabasan and Brisco having to naturally portray their characters washing and styling hair throughout the show. Prenger also makes sure the comic moments get big laughs and the serious ones are realistic while all ringing true to the characters and situations. Jeff Blake's set design is superb and works quite well on the small Fountain Hills stage, since Truvy's salon is supposed to be the size of a converted carport. Gail Oliphant's costumes and the hair and makeup designs from Patsy Johnson and Marybeth Ingram instill a perfect, and slightly humorous, 1980s look to the piece. Diane Senffner's dialect coaching ensures the cast of six exhibit fairly consistent and authentic Southern accents throughout.
Steel Magnolias is a powerful yet also very funny play that demonstrates that having a close group of friends is of most importance to help tackle and overcome the difficulties of life. It's also a show with relatable life lessons and events that everyone faces, so it appeals to both women and men. With a talented cast and assured direction, Fountain Hills' production is a beautifully moving and often times hilarious look at the power of friendship and how, as Truvy says, "laughter through tears" is the best kind of emotion.
Steel Magnolias, through October 28, 2018, at Fountain Hills Theater, 11445 N. Saguaro Blvd., Fountain Hills AZ. Information on tickets can be found at www.fhtaz.org or by calling 480-837-9661.
Director: Roger Prenger