Wednesday, March 20, 2019
I fell in love with Steel Magnolias thirty years ago, when Robert Harling's movie inspired by his beloved sister came out with a cast including Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine, Daryl Hannah, Olympia Dukakis, and Julia Roberts. The movie was funny, witty, a little bit raunchy, and sad enough to make an armadillo cry crocodile tears. Having lost my dear Mama to diabetes back in 2002, I have always felt a keen affection for the tenderness of this play and its handling of this disease, and how it affects all of those around the sweet, suffering soul.
When I heard auditions were coming up for a local production of this marvelous story, I was tempted, for the first time in my adult life, to give it a try. Happily for me (and for the audience), being a Mrs. Coach of American football kept me too busy to even think about all the back-breaking rehearsals necessary for a play. (Indeed, during intermission, I heard more than one audience member wondering how the performers could remember so many lines!) So I looked forward to attending the production from a first-row center seat instead.
A couple of asides, before I speak about last night's performance. Remember the TV show Cheers? Remember what made it such a hit? It wasn't just that it was funny and witty and sometimes sad. It was that we all wanted to find a pub just like that, "where everybody knows your name." Where when you walk in, just a regular "Norm," everyone greets you, and is happy you showed up. I think that is part of the allure of Steel Magnolias: during much of the movie (and through this entire production of the play), the action takes place in a local hair salon, where everyone knows everyone, and is invested in each other's lives. Where all the ladies can "let their hair down," and be absolutely real with one another.
One thing that matters a lot to me in any story is that I like the characters. Not all of them -- bad guys are bad guys -- but at least some of the characters must be likable, and all of them must be believable. I can't watch or read a story unless the characters matter to me.
I purposely avoided watching the movie again before seeing the AACI J-Town Playhouse Theater Project version of Steel Magnolias. Just to give the local talent a fair chance.
These ladies came through, with flying (pink! Did I say pink??? Yes, PINK!!!) colors. I liked them. I believed them. They made me cry, and laugh, and guffaw... and cry. I wanted to hang out in Truvy's beauty parlor, and swap stories and barbs with these lovable and sometimes contrary women.
Thank you to Sorah Grotsky, Abigail Ellis, Tova Rubenstein, Talya Bem, Miriam Metzinger, and Andrea Katz, for a lovable, endearing onstage presence. Thank you to Shiri Berzack & Co. for everything backstage that made this sweet and sad and funny little story work.
There are still tickets available for remaining performances, but they're going fast. And lest you think this is "chick flick" material, let me tell you that Mr. Harling's witty, daring, funny, and touching material will appeal to women and to men.
May Robert Harling find comfort in having touched so many hearts in his effort to honor his dear sister Susan.
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