Playwright Robert Harling.

Steel Magnolias
Written by Robert Harling
Directed by Dan Welch

A review by Kate Barry

Entire contents are copyright © 2013 Kate Barry. All rights reserved.

The bond between friends is a truly powerful thing. This is the very core of the classic comedy Steel Magnolias. The most important ingredient in putting on a production of Steel Magnolias is carefully crafting chemistry among six women who are very different but very much the same. If you make this happen, then the production is a success. Coffee Cup Theater Company’s modest production of this Southern comedy, which opened last weekend, successfully displays the friendship among these women.

If you have never seen the film adaptation or you are just not familiar with the story at all, it’s rather easy to grasp. Truvy is a hair stylist in a Louisiana town, and everyone from the former Mayor’s wife to the new girl in town trundles through with the latest gossip, complaints and praises. As Truvy, Debbie Smith is personable, congenial and caring. Even though Smith labels herself as a “newby” to acting in her program notes, she carries herself with a strong, energetic presence that matches any stage veteran. Truvy’s new hire is Annelle, played by Victoria Barnes. Sweet and soft spoken, Barnes’ strength comes through in Annelle’s seemingly innocent yet sometimes naïve desire to help people whom she loves no matter how reluctant they are to accept it, especially Ouiser, played by Carol Williams. As Ouiser, Williams is perfect as the stubborn biddy with a dog that is trained to kill. In this performance, she raises the bar to a high standard for her fellow actresses to reach. Lydia Kennebrew is Clairee Belcher, a woman in the midst of change within her personal and political life, and this actress provides a calming and mature presence in the play.

The action in Truvy’s parlor buzzes around mother and daughter, Shelby and M’Lynn, played by Jacquelyn Bryant and Kristy Calman. Bickering over petty things, passively arguing over hairstyles and colors for a wedding, Bryant and Calman successfully create relatable and realistic familial squabbles. There are two very important scenes involving Shelby and M’Lynn that mold their relationship as well as the mood of the play. In Act One, Shelby’s profound vulnerability to diabetes creates a tense tone. Bryant’s portrayal of nearly reaching a seizure-like convulsion was quick to start and end. As the character is stubborn about her illness, Bryant appeared to quickly forget about the pain she just went through. Later in the play, as M’Lynn is suffering loss, Calman jumps into feelings of highs and lows even though more careful emotional transitions would have played nicely in her time of mourning.

The production is currently playing in the Rudyard Kipling’s performance space, and one suggestion for the Rud’s wait staff might be to refrain from bringing any food or bills to tables while the actors are on stage, as it draws attention away from the play. Additionally, resources may be limited, but I suggest a stage hand or stage manager for the Coffee Cup Theater to help provide a smooth transition between scenes, cues and other technical aspects as well.

All things considered, this production of Steel Magnolias succeeds in delivering the major themes of love and friendship among women. The Rudyard Kipling’s small, intimate performance space works in this production’s favor as well. Everything, from the smells of nail polish and hairspray to watching the intricate twisting and curling of Shelby’s bridal hairdo, matches the action in a salon and the trust that goes along with it.

Steel Magnolias

June 6-8 and 13-15

Coffee Cup Theater Company
at The Rudyard Kipling
422 West Oak Street