The intimate black box theatre of the Mansfield Music and Arts Society (MMAS) provided the perfect setting for their current production of "Steel Magnolias," written by Robert Harling. The play is a witty and sometimes sappy story of six women who share everything from joy, gossip and grief. Thursday night's audience was about 95% female and judging from the enthusiast cheering and occasional outbursts of chatter among the crowd, the production struck an emotional chord.
For the small percentage of folks who have not seen the movie version (I've seen it about ten times!) the story takes place in a rural Louisiana township and centers at the local beauty salon. Over the course of roughly three years, we learn more about the six women and watch them support one another through a wedding, birth and finally an untimely death.
The set, designed by Gary Poholek, was well crafted and meticulously detailed. The authentic beauty salon equipment included working hairdressing chairs, a sink with running water and an old fashioned stationary hair dryer. The set was painted in two shades of "blush and bashful" with a little sea foam green thrown in for color. Copies of "Southern Hair" and a variety of beauty products contributed to the stylized look of the salon. The only small non-authentic prop was a misplaced Dunkin' Donuts cup. Call me crazy, but I don't think they had the luxury of our Yankee haven down in Louisiana in the 1980's.
Leading the cast with a strong, yet naturally sweet, performance was Nicole DeRosa who played the young newlywed, Shelby Eatenton-Latcherie. The relationship between Shelby and the "mother of the bride," M'Lynn Eatenton, played by Marsha Maxwell, was touching and sincere. The back and forth quips in the beauty shop on the day of Shelby's wedding were realistic and amusing without being mean spirited.
Marianna Scarpellini (Truvy Jones) and Rachel Carney (Annelle Dupuy-Desoto) also developed an enjoyable semi-mother and daughter relationship. Whether painting nails or "doing hair" these dueling beauticians seemed at ease in the beauty shop. Their comic timing elicited many of the evening's biggest laughs. Truvy's motto, "there is no such thing as natural beauty" had several ladies in the audience giggling out loud. Annelle's evolution from a shy new-girl-in-town to wild child and finally to religious zealot provided many enjoyable moments. In addition to Ms. Carney's fine acting, I appreciated how she projected her voice and every word was clear.
Rounding out the cast are two relative newcomers to the stage, Diane Milikan (Ouiser Boudreax) and Doreen Tighe (Clairee Belcher). Both ladies were charming in their own way. Ms. Milikan (Ouiser) hails from North Carolina and maintained the most credible Southern accent. Her cantankerous portrayal of the resident grump was so polished that it is hard to believe that this was her first show. Ms. Tighe (Clairee) also performed well for her first time back on the stage after a 30-year hiatus. Although, she seemed tentative with many lines, her performance was endearing and quite a refreshing departure from the character in the movie.
Although the MMAS production, directed by Chris Newton with Glenn Fournier as the assistant director, has many engaging moments it lacks a certain momentum…or heartbeat. One missing element that might have helped the dynamic of the ensemble was trust. Probably the most important quality in any relationship, trust bonds the characters in the play and should also bond the actors. Each of the talented women on stage possessed a certain charm and if developed more, the combination of their efforts may have blossomed into an even prettier "Steel Magnolia."