Theater Review: ‘Magnolias” in bloom at Pa. Playhouse
The Pennsylvania Playhouse is marking the 30th anniversary of the release of the motion picture, “Steel Magnolias,” with its own superb stage production of the bittersweet comedy-drama about the bond among a group of women at a beauty shop in a small Southern town whose lives are changed with the death of one of their own.
The play, which continues April 12-14, 19 and 20 at the Bethlehem theater, was written by Robert Harling as a way to cope one month after his sister’s death from complications of diabetes.
“Steel Magnolias,” directed by Gary Boyer, does just about everything right. The script and Boyer’s direction are surprisingly upbeat with some very funny one-liners delivered expertly by the cast.
In the April 5 opening night performance seen for this review, Syd Stauffer was brilliant as M’Lynn, the stressed-out mother who has dedicated her life to worrying about her daughter, and trying to protect her. She has little to say in the first act, using mostly her body language to tell who she is and what she feels.
By the end of the second act, Stauffer dominates the stage as she balances between tears of loss and smiles of remembrance, efforts at control, then a fit of anger. She is bereft, but never maudlin.
Stephanie Walsh is engaging as Shelby, the fragile daughter who considers her mother to be overprotective, and ignores her own compromised health. Speaking to her mother, she quips, “I never have to worry because you worry enough for both of us.”
Shelby is a bride in the first scene, pregnant in the second scene, and a mother in the third scene. She undergoes subtle character changes that Walsh handles well. She genuinely becomes the young girl who wants a baby regardless of the cost.
Other members of the fine cast are Tracey DeMaria (Truvy, the beauty shop owner), Carole Silvoy (football-obsessed Clairee), Vicki Montesano (the perpetually angry Ouiser) and Danielle Tampier (Annelle, a born-again Christian).
The play takes place in Truvy’s beauty parlor. The set is designed by Brett Oliveira and Kristen Wettstein. It is striking in its double shades of blue, and for the beauty props, from hair dryer to salon chairs to a shampoo sink with running water.
Todd Burkel’s costumes do double-duty. They not only clothe the actors in attire appropriate to the era and season, they subtly signal the changes in status and relationships of the characters over time.
Tickets: Pennsylvania Playhouse Box Office, 390 Illick’s Mill Road, Bethlehem; paplayhouse.org; 610-865-1192