Robert Harling's Steel Magnolias was a sentimental success on stage and screen when it first came out in the 1980s, but its story of sisterhood and survival in a small town now plays at times like a disease-of-the-week TV movie. The folks at the Boerum Hills Arts Center have arranged all the elements of the comic drama in a gregarious and graceful production, but the presentation doesn't overcome the script's limitations.
The show introduces viewers to a six-pack of Southern women, each of whom embodies a stereotype or two along with some unique traits and habits. Truvy (Katherine Alt Keener) is the outspoken owner of a beauty shop that she runs out of her carport. Annelle (Alex McCord) is the quiet new girl who isn't quite sure if she's married or not. The regulars include Clairee (Coulter Kent), a down-to-earth family matriarch, and M'Lynn (Dandy Stevenson), a practical businesswoman. Ouiser (Nancy Lindeburg) blows in for a new do from time to time, when she's not antagonizing the neighbors and their pets.
The local gossip runs rampant in Truvy's shop, and when Clairee's daughter Shelby (Kristen Hagen) makes an appointment to get her hair done for her wedding, everyone gets excited. However, when Shelby announces plans several months later to have a child, the news is not as well-received. Shelby is a diabetic, and complications could endanger her and her future baby. An urgent organ transplant ups the medical-trauma quotient even further.
The play has its share of simple charms. The caring camaraderie between a group of female characters is a rare sight on stage, and Harling manages to work some tender moments into the pathos. Director Steven Edward Hart (assisted by David Greenwood) kept the banter volleying back and forth between styling chairs, and encouraged the relationships to grow in a fairly natural progression, but couldn't overcome the mundane familiarity of the script.
Despite the basement setting at the Bethlehem Lutheran Church, expectations were raised when the six-member cast sang a lively version of "Going to the Chapel" behind a flat, and their sneakered, booted, and slippered feet danced in enthusiastic glee. The entire cast gave sensitive portrayals, working as a true ensemble with no one pulling focus from her fellow castmates. Keener and McCord had some solid moments together as the boss and her new employee; Kent was a strong presence as the mother, and Hagen elegantly ebullient as her daughter. Stevenson and Lindeburg exchanged several witty barbs and even got ready to rumble in a frenzied physical sequence.
Set dressing by John Haart aided in transforming the tiny in-the-round stage into a carport-sized beauty parlor. Sound design by Victoria Boomsma and lighting by Loren Weybright and Kate Brender contributed to the action.
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Copyright 2002 Elias Stimac