Sunday, July 23, 2006

Theater review: 'Steel Magnolias' is about more than the strength of flowers


My mother was a beautician, a fact that has made me avoid beauty shops whenever possible (even though many barbers have been replaced by hair stylists). She did not work full-time while I was growing up, but we occasionally visited her friend, Alta, who had a beauty shop in the basement of her home.
I did not like the smell, I did not like the noisy hair dryers, the hair rolled up in curlers or anything else associated with the beauty shop and that included the stories of near-death experiences in the magazines Alta kept on hand. The stories scared me to death!
Alta was an unhappy, hard-bitten woman who usually smelled of alcohol or some chemical used in her shop. Her husband had left her some years before I was born and I sympathized with him.
So, when Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre decided to do "Steel Magnolias," a show set in a small Mississippi beauty shop, I told my wife, "You'll have to do most of the review, I'm sure I won't like it."
I needn't have been too concerned. The audience was largely female at Beef & Boards, Indianapolis, Saturday night. But the story was written by a man, Robert Harling -- yes, I'm sure his testosterone levels were at the full mark. He wrote the show after his sister died from complications following childbirth and his sister's story is the thread that holds this comedy together.
It is set in a small Mississippi town in the 1980s. The cast is all women (with the exception of the radio announcer we hear between scenes). But with few changes, it could easily be adapted to a barber shop full of men.
In the first act, a new girl in town gets a job in the little beauty shop built in an enclosed carport. The beautician's husband enclosed the carport so she could support him, she says.
The new beautician, Annelle, changes during the show from an unsecure child who doesn't know if she is legally married or not to a Bible quotin' Born Again Baptist.
One of the customers is Shelby. It is Shelby's wedding day. Shelby is a strong, independent woman who chooses to ignore her doctor's advice against having children.
The last scene (SPOILER COMING!) shows how the women of the beauty shop deal with Shelby's death and the way they help Shelby's mother cope. (END OF SPOILER)
"Steel Magnolias" could just as easily be titled something more appropriate to a mixed or an all-male cast. It celebrates the strength and resilience of the human spirit.
I'm sure no one who has dealt with personal tragedy thinks in those terms, but it is the strength that is celebrated by Paul Harvey and the Biography Channel.
The words are right and that makes the show ring true.
The show reminds Linda of "Cheers" or "The Odd Couple" where people find strength through their friendships.
Sweet Shelby is played by Shelby Rose who has acted in New York theaters.
The cast includes Gene Raye Price, who will forever be recognized as Miss Kepler, the science teacher, on the Barney (the grinning purple dinosaur) show on TV. Also look for her in the upcoming TV mini-series, "Comanche Moon" in February. Lynne Perkins, Grace Sell and Deb Wims round out this fine ensemble.
The show is funny. The one-liners zing through the script faster than on the best episodes of "MASH".
Guys, you would probably enjoy going to see your favorite team play more than to take in this show by yourselves, but if you want to take your girl, she will enjoy it and you will, too.
The theater had a relatively small crowd Saturday, but the show received a standing ovation. And many of those standing were men.
"Steel Magnolias" plays through Aug. 20. Call (317) 872-9664 or go online: for more information.