by Terrance Mc Arthur
Robert Harling graduated from law school and decided to become an actor. He made a number of commercials. His sister Susan, who had encouraged him, died of diabetic complications. He wanted her to be remembered, so he started to write. He wrote a play. His friends and family invested in it. The play was called Steel Magnolias, and it was a hit. Harling wrote the screenplay of the movie, which starred Sally Field, Dolly Parton, and a newcomer…Julia Roberts. Steel Magnolias is now playing at the Good Company Players’ 2nd Space Theatre through October 14.
When Harling and the director cast and rehearsed the play in 1987, they played it like a tragedy. When audiences saw it, they laughed until their ribs hurt. The key to the play is that it is a very sad story, but the most amazing things come out of the mouths of these women, and you just have to laugh.
It all takes place in the converted-carport beauty parlor of Truvy (Valerie Munoz), where she has hired a new employee (Emily Kearns). M’Lynn (Laurie Pessano) needs sprucing up, as there’s a wedding and she’s the mother of the bride, Shelby (Chlorissa Protho). Other regulars at the shop are Clairee (Elizabeth Fiester), widow of the town’s mayor, and Ouiser (Tessa Cavaletto), the town’s most cranky woman. These women will become your friends as they play out 19 months of their lives in Louisiana.
Munoz is wise and down-home wonderful as the beautician who lifts your spirits, spoons out good advice, and spreads the best gossip while she teases your hair. Munoz played Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at 2nd Space, so it’s not all fluff under that big hair.
M’Lynn is a caring mental health provider who knows the risks her diabetic daughter runs if she ever bears a child. Pessano slides that fear into simple looks that carry loads of emotion. She gets one of the most heart-rending speeches in the modern theatre, and it’s a solid hit in her capable hands.
Fiester’s Clairee is well-grounded, finding herself by spending her late husband’s money, and turning into a savvy businesswoman. The character’s growth and discovery of freedom are a counterpoint to the sorrow inherent in the lives of M’Lynn and Shelby.
Protho isn’t Julia Roberts. She doesn’t need to be. Her soft touch on the role could let it become lost amid the powerhouse women with whom she shares the stage, but it sets her apart, and she draws attention. Her diabetic blood sugar reactions are chilling, especially if you’ve seen real ones. Her research into the condition has paid off into realism.
Kearns undergoes a different transformation than Fiester. The mousy girl-child hiding her past gains a quirky confidence through a religious conversion, and you like her, instead of ridiculing her.
The ridiculing is saved for Ouiser, and Cavaletto can handle it. As acerbic and terse as the biddy may be, Cavaletto gifts her with humanity, treating her as if she is the most logical person in the shop.
Denise Graziani’s direction welds these wild small-town spirits into a fighting machine that plows over all obstacles, a sisterhood that supports and winks at each other with love in every word. The set has that rustic, home-handyman look thanks to David Pierce’s design, and Teresa A. Castillo’s costumes constrict where they ought to constrict, and they reflect social standing where they should.
You might think of Steel Magnolias as a chick-flick kind of play, but it’s a people play. The 2nd Space Theatre is at 928 E. Olive Ave. in Fresno. For tickets and further information, contact www.gcplayers.com, or call (559) 266-9494, or check out KRL’s Good Company Players event page.
If you love local theatre, be sure to check out our new Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast, which features mysteries read by local actors. The first 4 episodes are now up! You can check the podcast out on iTunes and Google Play, and also on podbean.
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