Director Mark Rhea revives Robert Harling’s play of sassy Southern living in a scintillating production at the Keegan Theatre near Dupont.
If you’ve not yet had the pleasure of this dramedy in a pump chair, Steel Magnolias chronicles the experience of six Louisiana women through the marriage, pregnancy, and sudden death of the darling daughter, Shelby, from complications with diabetes.
Side-splitting laughter and tears by the bucket abound in this play of marriage, manners (or lack thereof), and the ability to be resilient in the face of unbearable adversity — basically a Jane Austen novel with more hairspray, actual problems, and fewer corsets.
The players deliver a brand of Louisiana sass that both stylishly mimics and updates the now immortal 1989 film, and Rhea’s direction accentuates the then-socially progressive elements of Harling’s 1987 original, and easily relates the universality of humor and grief among these very Southern women to a modern D.C. audience.
Rhea’s adaptation shows clearly how this play is not just about women and their roles as wives, mothers, and friends, but about the ability of all people to face the challenges of everyday living with a laugh and a sense of confidence that matches an immaculate up-do.
Rhea’s adaptation shows how this play is not just about women…but about the ability of all people to face the challenges of everyday living with a laugh and a sense of confidence that matches an immaculate up-do. Mother-daughter duo Sherri and Laura Herren (M’Lynn and Shelby) sweeten Rhea’s lagniappe with a natural ease of dialogue that would now make Sally Field and Julia Roberts pop a whole bottle of Boniva in fits of jealousy. The interaction of these two women cemented the performance in a real offstage bond and was so sweet I thought I might end up with diabetes from just watching them.
… As for aesthetics, Erin Nugent tastefully re-creates the tasteless ’80s as Clairee (Jane Petkofsky) channels Nancy Reagan in more sensible shoes, and an almost anachronistic Annelle gets in touch with her proto-hipster side in ballet flats, floral prints, and large wingtip glasses.
[The] set design was equally outstanding and depicted a backwoods beauty parlor at its finest, with a white linoleum stage and a pre-fab feel that appropriately compliments the authenticity of a script that oscillates quickly between raucous laughter and bursts of tears.
…the small venue of the Keegan provided the audience with a distinctly Southern intimacy and allowed the audience to waft the hairspray fumes and see every drop of running mascara from any seat in the house.
Don’t pass up an opportunity to see this Southern classic revitalized by a dynamic group of women and a discerning group of producers.