Attleboro Community Theater's first production of their 49th season is Robert Harling's classic comedy/drama, "Steel Magnolias". Truvy's beauty salon is the unofficial hub of Chinquapin Parish, LA. The ladies of the neighborhood congregate there weekly to share each others' lives. The play focuses on the camaraderie of six Southern women who talk, gab, gossip, needle and harangue each other through the best of times and cry,caress, comfort and repair one another through the worst. They're soul mates in a rarefied way combining laughter and pain that pulls tears from the most cynical viewer. These women are the steel magnolias of the title:Southern belles, flowery on the inside, but strong enough inside to survive any challenge thrown their way including the death of a loved one. Director Beverly Darling chooses six strong actresses to portray these roles especially the role of Shelby who is the heart of this show and infuses the character with the strength and believability necessary for it. Beverly creates an acting ensemble of the highest caliber to bring the audience the laughter and tears the show deserves. Brava on a job well done.
Having seen this show done poorly a few years back, made me hesitant to view it again. I had seen it done and Shelby was always the weakest character in the show. We know she is going to die but whoever played it, broadcast it from the first scene to her last scene, making her a weak and insipid girl. However Beverly Darling is an excellent director with a keen eye to character development and the interaction between the performers must be believable, creating a strong team spirit. She makes her actresses the best they can be and their performances attest to that fact. Jeanne Dearie who is a senior at Feehan High School, plays Shelby with the spunk and strength needed. She makes Shelby shine in all her scenes from the first scene with her bubbly behavior in the beauty salon the day of her nuptials and we learn she is a diabetic who shouldn't have a child. The second scene of Act 1 shows her telling her mother she is pregnant and the first scene of Act 2 shows her needing a kidney transplant. Jeanne's acting prowess comes through whether it is a comic or a touching moment and she delivers the goods to an appreciative crowd.
Kim Alessandro delivers a powerful performance as the bereaved mother, M'Lynn. She shows the love for her daughter in the emotional speech about being there when Shelby arrived in this world and when she left this world, making the audience choke back their tears. Kim handles the comic side of M'Lynn with ease, cracking jokes and one liners. The two biggest scene stealers of this show are Connie Anderson as Ouiser and Evie Rayburg as Clairee. Their funny banter leaves you laughing at their antics. One of the best lines is when Ouiser proclaims she has been in a bad mood for 40 years. These two veteran actresses deliver their one liners with ease and in the last scene they deliver the goods with the needed pathos for it. Karen Gibson with huge blonde hair does a wonderful job as Truvy. She does the ladies hair and nails while delivering her dialogue as the owner of the salon. Her comments about her lazy couch potato husband are funny and her relationships with the other performers comes through naturally. The last member of the cast is Melissa Stanziale who plays Annelle, the assistant hair dresser whose hair styles change with each scene. She starts out as a timid mouse and becomes more confident as the show goes on. Annelle also becomes a religious zealot who tries to convert the others with sometimes humorous results. So for one of the best versions of "Steel Magnolia" around, be sure to catch ACT's show before time runs out. Tell them Tony sent you. Kudos to the return of ACT after a year's hiatus and this show proves they still got what it takes to mount a topnotch show.