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Beauty bonds show depth of friendship through strife in ‘Steel Magnolias’

Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre's "Steel Magnolias"

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Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre transforms into a Chinquapin, Louisiana beauty shop as six talented local actresses mount the famous Robert Harling comedy/drama, “Steel Magnolias” April 19-May 4, where fun, laughs, eccentricities, jabs, and tragedy test the depths of individual character and the fibers of lasting friendships.

The beauty shop ladies know all.  Don’t believe it?  Check out the production of, “Steel Magnolias,” at Kansas City’s Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre.  The comedy/drama opened Saturday, April 19 for a limited three-week run.
Bob Paisley and Courtesy of Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre

Written by Harling and directed by Marc Liby, “Steel Magnolias" features a memorable sextet of female Kansas City actors in this comedy/drama which opened off-Broadway 1987, prior to moving to Broadway in 2005. The MET's production will run for three weeks, Wednesdays through Sundays.

“The title suggests the female characters are as delicate as magnolias but as tough as steel," Paisley said.

A synopsis from the MET states: The action is set in Truvy's beauty salon in Chinquapin, Louisiana, where all the ladies who are "anybody" come to have their hair done. Helped by her eager new assistant, Annelle (who is not sure whether or not she is still married), the outspoken, wise-cracking Truvy dispenses shampoos and free advice.

Truvy and Annelle service some other residents of the town, a rich curmudgeon, Ouiser, ("I'm not crazy, I've just been in a bad mood for forty years"); an eccentric millionaire, Miss Clairee, who has a passion for football; and the local social leader, M'Lynn, whose daughter Shelby is ready for the altar. Shelby, the prettiest girl in town with a passion for pink, suffers from Diabetes. The characters throw verbal laughs and insults at the other in the shop as the play moves from light to tragic as show progresses.

Even though the play turns tragic, the underlying strength of character, love and friendship give the characters a special bond. The depth of character and strong bonds give the play, and its characters, the special quality to make them truly touching, funny and marvelously amiable company in good times and bad, Paisley said.

Cast members are: Nancy Nail as Truvy, Kenna Hall as Annelle, Licia Watson as M’Lynn, Peggy Freisen as Clairee, Stefanie Wieneke as Shelby and Marilyn Lynch as Ouiser.

The ensemble cast absolutely sparked on opening night. With all characters seemingly driven by the energy and anticipation of the crowd. Nail and Hall opened the show and set the tone for the 1980s play as Hall’s Annelle begins with her eccentricities, doubts, and mystery about her situation. Something is just not right, but Nail’s Truvy recognizes the work ethic and hidden needs of Annelle to work. Advice and funny comments about the beauty biz set the tone as others begin to arrive.

Nail, as Truvy, gives the feeling that she’s just playing herself as the likeable, loveable Truvy with a heart as big as the sky. She convinces the audience that her character is the epitome of Southern women.

Hall is the most nervous and strange character in the play. Her Annelle makes the audience laugh as her nervous need to please creates some problems in the first scenes of the show. Hall makes everyone laugh at Annelle’s fidgety nature. She’s so much fun to watch work through the character.

Freisen, as the rich widow wears the character like her own skin. She displays a comfort with the role from her first entrance. She’s witty, sharp tonged and opinionated as the former first lady of the town prior to her husband’s passing. Freisen takes the audience along as her character builds and changes toward the more tragic circumstances in the play.

As the bride to be with medical issues, Stefanie Wieneke, strays from her general character types and delivers a sweet, poignant performance as the sweetness of her character press against her strong determination to be normal. She wants it all, marriage, family, friends. She shows compassion for Annelle upon first meeting and offers her both clothing and friendship. Wieneke is strong in the part and plays Shelby as a genuinely nice character and not a Southern diva.

The balance for Shelby’s character is M’Lynn, played by Licia Watson. Her character is the mother that cannot let go of her children and every move reflects the best interest of her family. Watson’s character changes most throughout the play and she takes the audience inside her as she shows her strong front in the face of fear for Shelby’s decisions. Watson’s character is visibly tough but so gentle inside. She’s the doting mother everyone knows.

And then there is Ouiser, brought to life by the Marilyn Lynch, whose comedic timing is probably the best in Kansas City. Lynch delivers the over-the-top character with flair. Audiences laugh with each entrance and each line of dialogue. Just think of the Hallmark Cards character of Maxine. Lynch takes that two-dimensional crab and turns her into a three-dimensional living being. Every line, look, and movement generated laughs.

In all, a brilliant casting collection by director Marc Liby brought “Steel Magnolias” to life at the MET. Liby said he wanted to go back to the original work and let the work be seen and received as it was written. He trusted the playwright and then trusted his ensemble to deliver a production worthy of standing ovations, packed houses, and sell-out performances. His concept worked.

The beauty shop set worked and all of the actresses could always be seen from any angle. The blocking allowed for movement without hindering sight lines of the audience. The two entrances at one end of the stage allowed for all needed access for the performers.

The backstage crews created a masterful blend with their talents. Stage management, lighting, sound, costumes, props all played important parts in creating a tight cohesive production.

Even though the play opened April 19, it’s hard to see how the play can develop and flow better. The production is tight, fast-paced, on target and polished. The energy of opening night reflected in the audience’s immediate standing ovation and followed through the champagne reception afterward.

“Steel Magnolias” at the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre is a bonafide hit and not to be missed. The show differs from the movie, and those who have not seen the stage version need to make plans to see this production.

The play began previews on Thursday, April 17, and opened April 19. “Steel Magnolias” runs Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. Sunday matinees begin at 2 p.m.

For tickets, go to the website: www.metkc.org or call the box office at816.569.3225. Ticket prices are $25, $27, and $20. All seating is by general admission.