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Unplugged: Strong ensemble drives Asbury’s ‘Steel Magnolias’

 

Unplugged: Strong ensemble drives Asbury’s ‘Steel Magnolias’

08 Mar 2017

Robert Harling’s “Steel Magnolias” is 30 years old, but the play still feels fresh, funny and wise in its exploration of the relationships among six women in a small Louisiana town.

Under the direction of Carmel Hearn, the current production of “Steel Magnolias” by Asbury Memorial Theatre captures both the humor and the grace of the characters as they deal with a host of challenges.

At times the women are comically dealing with the problems of their current hairdos, and at other times they are confronting mortality with both the steeliness and delicacy implied by the play’s title.

Much of the action focuses on the tense but loving relationship between Shelby, played with a wonderful brightness by Amie Schulz, and her mother M’Lynn (Cheri Hester), the ultimate “steel magnolia.”

The entire play is set in the beauty salon owned by Truvy (Frannie Williams), who has turned her shop into a safe space for the fiercely independent women to trade uncensored barbs and share — or, selectively, choose not to share — their deepest fears and emotions.

In addition to the developing mother-daughter relationship, we watch the wide-eyed Annelle (Toye Hickman) increasingly define her life through Christianity, Clairee (Ellen McGraw) take new risks and Ouiser (Ginger Miles) try to temper her curmudgeonly persona.

The large scale of the sanctuary at Asbury Memorial United Methodist Church worked well for the production of “The Fantasticks” that I reviewed in 2014, but the sheer size of the room threatens at times to overwhelm the intimacy of a play like “Steel Magnolias.”

Still, director Hearn and the strong ensemble cast make numerous choices that bring the characters to life. I’m sure I’m not the only audience member who could relate deeply to the hardest moments in “Steel Magnolias.”

Yes, there are some heavy scenes in “Steel Magnolias,” but much of the play is more in the vein of lighthearted comedy. I especially enjoyed the ensemble’s handling of some of the lines that referenced the 1980s.

Asbury’s production of “Steel Magnolias” continues with 7:30 p.m. shows on March 10 and 11 and a 3 p.m. matinee March 12. The church is located at 1008 E. Henry St., at the intersection of Waters Avenue.

“Steel Magnolias” runs about 2 hours, 45 minutes, including the intermission.

Bill Dawers writes City Talk in Savannah Morning News and blogs at Savannah Unplugged (www.billdawers.com) and hissing lawns (www.hissinglawns.com). Email billdawers@comcast.net.

IF YOU GO

What: Asbury Memorial Theatre presents “Steel Magnolias”

When: 7:30 p.m. March 10 and 11; 3 p.m. March 12

Where: Asbury Memorial United Methodist Church, 1008 E. Henry St.

Cost: $15; $10 each for groups of 10 or more

Info: 912-233-3595, asburymemorial.org/theatre, savannahsteelmagnolias.wordpress.com

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