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Theatre Review: CATCO’s Steel Magnolias Warms Hearts

Lisa Much Lisa Much Theatre Review: CATCO’s Steel Magnolias Warms HeartsGail Griffith, left, Kelly Strand, right, and Josie Merkel, front, star in CATCO’s production of Steel Magnolias. Photo by Ben Sostrom.
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CATCO’s newest production, a re-working of the classic Steel Magnolias, attempts to warm hearts as spring’s late arrival tries to keep people blue.

Written in 1987, the play pre-dates the Sally Field movie of the late 80s. It takes place within the walls of Truvy’s Beauty Spot, the best place in town for a lady to get her hair done. Truvy, the owner, and her new assistant, Annelle see to the regulars: Clairee, Ouiser, M’Lynn, and Shelby, M’Lynn’s daugther. Throughout the years the play takes place, the audience witnesses Shelby’s wedding, her struggle in married life for a baby, and a fight with type 1 diabetes as well as the growth and strength of the friendships of the other women.

The six performers mesh together quite well in this long show. Kelly Strand truly stands out though as the shy Annelle whose transformation adds flavorful seasoning to the saccharine show. Jackie Bates (Ouiser) and Josie Merkle (Clairee) strike a fine balance as two old friends who love to tease each other. Through their genuine play, we see their friendship only strengthen. Gail Griffith (Truvy) fills the theater with her energy and love, almost welcoming the audience into her salon like clients. Sarah Behrens plays a reserved M’Lynn with conscious calculation even up to her climatic monologue. It proves difficult not to since everyone knows the ending. Andrea Schmitt is a quite young Shelby who plays more magnolia and less steel. Behrens and Schmitt possess a strange chemistry as mother-daughter, one that makes their relationship seem a bit unreal. Overall, the varying personalities of the six person ensemble make the incessant, syrupy talking more tolerable.

Director Steven C. Anderson establishes an appropriate pace, apart from the irksomely long and bland transitions. The players never run out of activity on stage mostly due to Michael S. Brewer’s bombastic explosion of Southern hair care playground-esque set. With dozens of beauty products donated by Aveda, nuanced props designed and gathered by Brewer, and scenic details masterfully crafted by Edith Dinger Watkins, the set is truly a feat of simultaneous breathtaking gaud and awe.

Ruth Boyd’s beautifully crafted costumes create the cornucopia of fashion forward (and less forward) 90s women. Keya Myers-Alkire’s sound design sets the feel of sleepy, slow Southern Louisiana, and Jakyung Seo’s exceptionally bright lighting ensures a constant, static, yet happy feel.

Overall, this might seem like a fantastic event for a lady’s night out, which it is. Women considerably outnumbered the men at the performance I saw; however, I overheard a male audience member explaining to his companion that many of the moments remain universal. (He said this more or less). Steel Magnolias certainly passes the Bechdel Test, which most people can get behind.

The show feels long, mostly because the characters talk for quite a length of time. Little action occurs and the characters remain too sweet and less real for me to truly enjoy it. However, for those that like the movie or good stories about friendship and love, Steel Magnolias will not disappoint.

Steel Magnolias plays until April 13, in Studio One of the Vern Riffe Center, 77 S. High Street. Thurs-Sat. at 8 pm; Wed. at 11 am; Sun. at 2 pm. General Admission is $41.00 on Thurs. and Sun.; $45.00 on Fri. and Sat; $11 on Wed. More information can be found online at CATCOistheatre.org.

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