Steel Magnolias Blooms in Denver

Robert Harling's Classic Perfetly Produced

By: - Oct 02, 2021

Steel Magnolias is staged by the Cherry Creek Theater in Denver, Colorado. This comic tragedy comes alive in a beauty parlor, whose window frames look out on the talk of the town parading by. In the South, men sit under a pecan tree and talk about affairs as if they all had PhDs from Harvard.  The women hunker down to have their hair and nails done.

Director Tara Falk creates playwright Robert Harling’s richly individuated characters who loft successive lives full of wit and insight. Paced perfectly, we move tight in to experience this world. It quickly centers on Shelby, a young diabetic who is about to be married. Curlers are rolled and unrolled by Truvy (Devon James) the shop’s proprietor.  Driers clunk over them, the hard hats of beauty.

A linelifted from Alice Roosevelt Longworth, "If you have something bad to say about somebody . . . sit down right here beside me!", is one of a thousand quips which engage. What the women treasure most is anyone with a "past." When Annelle, an awkward new girl at the beauty parlor confesses that she "thinks" she is married, they draw closer and hold their breath. Shannon Altner as Annelle rouses the audience’s curiosity and concern too.

We meet Shelby, a bride-to-be, given a nuanced performance by Erika Mori. Her gift of a radio to the shop enlivens the stage from beginning to end. Her spirit under difficult circumstances is never daunted. Suzanne Nepi as her mother Ms. Lynn subtly suggests a cold concern that is genuine and warms up when asked to make her own sacrifice. Clairee has lost her husband but gained a radio station and perhaps a new beau to nuzzle. Ouiser may be considered on the fringe of craziness by her group, but Tracy Shaffer gives her emotional edges that move because they so accurately reflect the mood of the moment. Tara Falk directs this concoction of characters to give individual voice and style.

Barbershop, the black Chicago version of a day in the life of a men’s beauty salon, or barbershop, is funny too. If nothing significant gets settled during rambling conversations, many issues are aired, and by the end,  all problems have been solved. The talk is lively and often stylish. Cedric the Entertainer has the confidence, the style has a funny rap about Rosa Parks, Rodney King and O.J. Simpson.

Steel Magnolias does not have the political message like Barbershop. The story of Rosa Parks sitting down on a bus because she was simply tired caused Jesse Jackson and many other Black leaders to call MGM in the middle of the night to demand that the line be excised.

None of the marvelously witty lines in Steel Magnolias rise to this level of offense, but they can be downright dirty and hysterically offensive.  A young boy returns home to his family and reports that he has a brain tumor and only three months left to live.  His family starts crying.  "Hey, just kidding." he says.  “I'm just gay.”

There is a tenderness in the witty barbs. Each character can nail herself as well as the other beauty shop group.

On reflection Cherry Creek Theatre has picked a perfect play to end our Covid season.  It is laugh out loud funny, true, and moving. 

Death does not conquer.In Denver at the Cherry Creek Theatre through October 24.