10/3 - 10/7/2007
Reviewed by Mark Bretz
October is one of the busiest months on the theatrical calendar in our area, as numerous colleges and universities showcase dramatic and musical endeavors along with the myriad professional and community groups who call St. Louis home. A most pleasant surprise took place last Thursday, when the second performance of Center Stage Theatre's production of Robert Harling's affecting drama, Steel Magnolias
, played to a sold-out audience in the 400-seat Robert Shook Theatre on the campus of St. Charles Community College.
The exuberant crowd picked a good evening to attend, as the players seemed to rise to the occasion and deliver some fine performances. Harling's sweet saga, set in the tiny borough of Chinquapin, Louisiana between 1985 and 1987, takes place in four scenes over two acts, with each scene representing a different season.
Six ladies of various ages and social status congregate regularly in the cozy little beauty salon operated by Truvy, a high-spirited, middle-age woman saddled with a somnambulant husband but buoyed by a keen sense of humor and a grand love of gossip. Truvy's latest venture is taking in a shy young apprentice named Annelle, who may or may not be married and who is living in a rough boarding house across town.
Their customers consist of Clairee, wise-cracking widow of the long-time mayor; Shelby, a buoyant, independent young woman who takes on life's challenges straightforwardly; M'Lynne, her poised and polished but overprotective mother; and Ouiser, a tough-talking, dog-loving, feisty old sort who relishes her role as the town terror.
Harling capably sets up the story's affecting moments in casual but clear fashion, showing us what might be happening down the line to the characters, but always with humor and humanity. Director Pamela Cilek effectively brings out the potential for fine theater by establishing the dramatic parameters for her cast, and for the most part they deliver the goods.
Helen Tucker brings an impish style and swagger to Helen, good-naturedly bantering with Ouiser while showing her own character's rich love of life. Rebecca Pasley offers a steady portrayal of M'Lynne while mustering the necessary emotion when the part requires it, and Candice Stine displays sure comic timing for the hearty one-liners spread liberally by Truvy.
Sasha Kline does a nice job as the ever-evolving Annelle, urchin-turned-prayer leader, and Kendra Kaine conveys a forceful power in the pivotal role of Shelby, a diabetic determined to bear a child for her husband. Margaret O'Dea chews up the scenery with flair as the indelicate Ouiser.
Lonna Wilke's set and lighting designs convey the look of a small-town salon, aided by Deborah Phillips' costumes for the "Ëgirls,' and the lively rock and country soundtrack is courtesy of Milan Anich and Pam Cilek. Nice job for the most part by a cast and crew who clearly had a good time.