Sunday, June 06, 2004

Steel Magnolias (Beck Center)

'STEEL MAGNOLIAS' doesn't hit all the right notes at Beck

There are few plays which allow the audience to laugh through their tears. STEEL MAGNOLIAS, Robert Harling’s well-crafted script, is one of the few, and, possibly the best.

The story, set in Chicapenn Parish, Louisiana examines the lives of six women. They are unique females whose social and emotional lives center around the local beauty shop where “anyone who’s anybody gets their hair done.” The women share gossip, laughter, tears and friendship, while buoying each other through pain and sorrow, while celebrating the wonders of life.

Truvy, a woman with big blond poofed hair, owns the beauty shop, once a car port attached to her house. Annelle is her new employee, a born-again Christian with a secret. Clairee is the wife of the former mayor and the wealthiest woman in town. M’Lynn is a social worker and mother of Shelby, whose life and death is the centerpin of the play. Ouiser is a pseudo-miserable woman who is all bark and little bite.

The play is chock full of delightful lines: “We went skinny dipping and did things that frightened the fish.” “I should have known my son had problems when his imaginary playmate wouldn’t play with him.” “The sanctuary looks like it was hosed down with Pepto Bismol.” On and on they go, and most pleasantly, they aren’t just one liners...they fit into the script and carry meaning and help develop both the characters and plot.

Beck Center’s production, unfortunately, doesn’t live up to the script. Sara May’s directing is usually right on target. In this production, however, she seems to have slowed the whole production down. Characters were not consistently developed and the line between comedy and pathos was often blurred. Dialect Coach Chuck Richie needed to hone the actresses’ Louisiana rhythm, cadence and articulation.

The cast is generally talented, but fails to jell. Maybe, as the show runs, the blending will take place. Melinda Hughes, as the diabetes-inflicted Shelby, comes the closest to a true-Louisiana sound. A tone which is absolutely necessary to illustrate that these are Southern women, born and bred. Hughes also sets up the pathos by being both vulnerable and appealing. Rhoda Rosen as Ouiser has some wonderful moments. Bernice Bolek as Clairee also displays some grasp of her role’s motivations. Julie Ketterer as M’Lynn, needed more resolve, Amy Pawlukiewicz as Annelle needed more character depth and Maria Corell as Truvy who is the pivotal character of the script, needed to let lose and develop a broader characterization.

Casey Jones’ sound design, especially the musical interludes between scenes, helped develop the correct mood for each scene.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Beck’s ‘STEEL MAGNOLIAS’ is an acceptable, if not totally fulfilling production.