Go see "Steel Magnolias" at Little Fish Theatre in San Pedro and we guarantee you'll feel a chill running down your spine.
And that's even if, in curmudgeonly fashion, you aren't delighted with the play, Robert Harling's 1987 fictional tribute to his sister and her world that was made into a film in 1989 and has had a rich life as a play on Broadway and around the country. You're guaranteed to feel the chills either way.
That's because Little Fish finally has got air conditioning in its small theater space. (The theater expanded in size for its last play and air conditioning was the next improvement.)
But even if it was sweltering in the playhouse, you'd want to see this "Steel Magnolias," a richly comic and also slightly sad depiction of six women from a small town in Louisiana who work at or are worked on at the local beauty shop and whose connections go far beyond an occasional hair dye job.
The play, in one set designed by Chris Beyries, opens with Truvy Jones (Chiquita Fuller) telling the new hire Annelle Dupuy-Desoto (Kristin Towers-Rowles) how she wants her customers treated. Fuller is an African American, which suggests the new South, and she is a commanding presence, delightfully comic and sure of herself. Towers- Rowles is delicious as Annelle, the young woman who wants a job (and needs one). She is bent over a bit, and more than slightly afraid of her new clients. By the end of the play, 18 months later, she stands upright and isn't afraid of anyone, a change she conveys mostly through her posture.
Into the shop come Shelby Eatenton-Latcherie (Daina Baker Bowler), the beautiful young blonde who is getting ready for her marriage. She has two shades of pink as her colors, and is as determined to have her way as anyone made of steel might be. She is light and airy at first, but perfectly determined despite everything. Her mother, M'Lynn Eatenton (Amanda Karr, who has had several starring roles at Little Fish) is just as determined to protect her daughter from her diabetes, but gives in nonetheless.
Then there is Clairee Belcher (Susie McCarthy), a woman who is as charitable as she is determined, and the irrepressible Ouiser Boudreaux (Mary-Margaret Lewis), whose dog and love life are both topics of good-natured gossip (especially the dog, who is never seen but just as well might be).
Director James Rice lets these charming ladies roam around the stage telling their stories. There is an imaginary mirror with its back to the audience that the characters use occasionally, looking straight into the audience, an effect used sparingly but with impact. Leslie Stamoolis has designed effective and attractive costumes, and they enhance the characters without getting in their way.
There is hardly need to criticize this play, which tells a story that may be true or embellished in its particulars but has the ring of authenticity in its home truths of women bonding and living their lives as friends. The movie, which brings in the men in question and expands the story, is perhaps less effective than the play, which concentrates the action in time and place, lets the audience appreciate the characters and the plot and may be the better vehicle for this story. And the six actresses make it all wonderful and fun. And it's cool, too.
John Farrell is a Long Beach-based freelance writer.
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