Sunday, November 24, 2013

Steel Magnolias by Robert Harling, City Theatre, November 22 - December 22, 2013

CTXLT review

by Dr. David Glen Robinson

Chinquapin Parish comes to the City. 

Steel Magnolias Robert Harling City Theatre Austin TX
To the City Theatre, that is, in the form of Robert Harling’s superbly written modern classic, Steel Magnolias. Theatre fans cannot see this masterpiece frequently enough; they must review it often to catch the fast-flying wicked barbs, double entendres, bon mots, and just plain corny jokes that fill its two hours and ten minutes. It feels like about one hour because laughter makes one lose all track of time. City Theatre’s holiday offering is highly recommended.

The story is about the small group of women who frequent Truvy’s Beauty Salon, get their hair done and share their lives. It is a high comedy with an underlying tragedy. The stories related by the customers in the styling chairs depict small town northern Louisiana culture, accurately in this reviewer’s experience. Further, it is a Christmas play, as part of the first act takes place at Christmastime, which at Truvy’s sees even keener and sharper humor related to the season, all without causing anyone to review their sense of the sacred and profane. Have I said this play is superbly written?

This strong material and the expectations of audiences for it set a high mark for any production, and the City Theatre production meets all the expectations for it. It's yet another glowing success for City Theatre.

The cast is well matched. Under the leadership of Samantha Brewer as Truvy, the cast shares the tidal shifts of intensity and emotion that sweep through their many stories. Director Berkovsky deserves credit for the exciting pace and its timing, that key element of comedy. The players did not miss a beat, as far as the audience could detect, quite a feat on any opening night, when butterflies and jitters are inevitable. If Best Ensemble Performance in a Comedy is a category to be taken seriously, then the cast of Steel Magnolias certainly deserves a nomination for a B. Iden Payne award from the Austin theatre community.

The set was believable and authentic, and it conveyed a sense of warmth and familiarity from the first moment Berkovsky did the production design and Jennifer Cunningham did scenic painting.

A special credit goes to Val Frazee for hair design, super important in a play about beauticians and their customers. The wig work was especially spectacular.

The costume design by Rosalie Oliveri was most impressive, conveying both the idiosyncrasies and class-conscious wealth of northern Louisiana. Styling and prop design, usually credited on the program, were missing from the credits.

Steel Magnolias teaches us the age-old verity that friendship is a value that sustains us throughout our lives. On a deeper levelis the truth that friendship, simple friendship among neighbors and families, is perhaps the highest form of love. It gives much and demands everything and in the end provides strength beyond imagining. The play program carries a quote from Shakespeare that says it best: “I count myself in nothing else so happy as in a soul rememb’ring my good friends.”

Make Steel Magnolias your new holiday play. It runs at City Theatre at Airport Rd and 38 1/2 Street on the east side until December 22nd.

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