M’Lynn. Truvy. Anelle. Clairee. Shelby. OUISER.
For a certain generation and very distinct demographic, these are names that evoke a particularly unique upswelling of emotions and responses. Ruefulness. Kindred warmth. Uncontrollable cackling. These names are the women from the sensationally popular Steel Magnolias, the piece that reached outstanding fame with the film release in 1989 (helped by the indomitable performances of the likes of Dolly Parton, Julia Roberts, and Olympia Dukakis) but began its life on stage as a play by Robert Starling. Written as an attempt to contend with the playwright’s grief after his sister’s death, and to serve as an homage to the profoundly mettlesome Southern women who reared him, Starling’s Magnolias boldly takes on the social, emotional and relational dynamics of women grappling with the vicissitudes and complexities of anguish, bereavement, unshakeable love and resilience. Apple Hill Playhouse’s recent adaption of the classic Magnolia’s, directed by Matthew Mlynarski (director of other notable productions Laughter on the 23rd Floor and Chicago), does not fall short of the tremendous legacy the story of these women holds.
Much of the challenge of casting a show stacked with dynamic characters is finding individuals who can execute performances that are simultaneously consistent with the outstandingly memorable qualities of the originals characters while creating entirely new essences for the roles. The women leading the charge in Apple Hill’s Magnolias are decidedly effective in the dual importance of recreating such well-known characters. Mary Ferrara, who, perhaps had the most daunting task of bringing infamously obdurate and crotchety Ouiser to life, was a sardonically plucky bright spot in the well-polished assortment of performances. Jenn Chevernek is passionately luminous as M’Lynn, the mother who must grapple with her daughter’s stubborn determinedness to have a family despite the jeopardy it places her in, and her adroitness in portraying a woman torn apart by love, fear, and courageousness. What is more, the fluidity and seamless chemistry between every actress is nothing short of harmonious—particularly the interplay between Chevernek and Kaylyn Farneth (who masterfully captures M’Lynn’s daughter, Shelby) and between Pam Farneth (Truvy) and Madisson Heinl (her charismatic protégé, Anelle). Magnolias is a story whose success and accessibility hinders upon the compatibility and congeniality between the characters, and the women of the show, aided by the directorial choices, absolutely delivered.
The impeccable work done on stage design and artistic direction makes up for the occasional moments of sluggish pacing and lines that fall flat. The production and artistic crews flawlessly brought to life the quaint yet vibrant world of the beauty salon and homes of the women of Magnolias. Each element of the design expertly comes together to give as much character and life to the world of the women as the brilliant performances of the actresses. This is beneficial, as, in certain moments, the pacing of the action dragged in ways that were perhaps unavoidable, save some revisionist work to the original script. Related, some of the dialogue fails to find its footing, not by virtue of the delivery of the performers, but the somewhat distance world and era that Magnolias will eternally exist in. Ultimately, however, Steel Magnolias is a robust and steadfast remake that earns its accolades in its own right.
Steel Magnolias runs at the Apple Hill Playhouse in Delmont through June 16. For tickets and more information click here.
Categories: Archived Reviews