Backyard Renaissance Theatre Company Brings Steel Magnolias to the 10th Avenue Arts Center

A Touching Story with a Very Well Matched Cast and Performances 

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

Wendy Maples and Claire Kaplan in Steel Magnolias. Photo Daren Scott

Every time I see a play, I think about topics, subject matter, and the current times. I have mentioned in other pieces that this slow and stumbled return to the performing arts has to be considered when planning a season/show. I am sharing my thoughts here as context because let us face it, theatre ain't that popular. Commercial pieces are, and each blogview I write is not only a critical activity of the production staged but a whole recap of the experience. Anyway, I have to give it to these smaller theatre companies that do so much with what they have and make genuinely wonderful happenings on the boards. 

Backyard Renaissance Theatre Company opened the second show of its 7th season, Steel Magnolias by American playwright Robert Harling. This is a 35th-anniversary production of the play and I would argue theatre companies still stage more plays by white male playwrights but since this is based on Harling's experience with his sister's illness...well, I will let it slide. 

The play preceded the 1989 movie with Julia Roberts, Dolly Parton, and so on. (which I did not know). On September 3, Renaissance opened their production during a very intense heatwave in San Diego and with no AC during the first act. But that kind of did not matter because as soon as you come into the space, the PINK setting of Truvy's very eighty's looking salon imposes itself on the eye. Scene/Prop Designer Tony Cucuzzella did it again with a wonderful home for this tale with all the carefully crafted details all the way to the hairspray, the decorations, and the magazines. 

Claire Kaplan, Annie Hinton, Wendy Maples and Liliana Talwatte in Steel Magnolias. Photo Daren Scott

The plot is set in Chinquapin Louisiana. Truvy (Wendy Maples) owns the town beauty parlor where hair is the least popular of the topics. Annelle (Claire Kaplan) just moved to town and is Truvy's new hairstylist. Salon regulars include Ouiser (Annie Hinton), the town's grump (and my favorite), Clairee (Dagmar Krause Fields) the late mayor's wife, M'Lynn (Marci Anne Wuebben), and her daughter Shelby (Liliana Talwatte) who is getting married that day. Shelby has type 1 diabetes and it has taken a serious toll on her body. Still, she wishes to have a baby even though it is highly contraindicated by her doctor. The story continues for three more years where we see the ladies come and go to do their hair and share their life updates. Annelle who had marriage troubles when she moved to the town, met her new husband at Shelby's wedding and is now expecting a girl. Shelby has a baby boy, is on dialysis, and needs a kidney transplant, her mom is the donor. Things take a turn and the salon's atmosphere and dynamics will be changed forever.

Claire Kaplan and Dagmar Krause Fields in Steel Magnolias. Photo Daren Scott

The two-hour and change go by pretty quickly and the casting for the production is spot on. Hearing the ladies with their southern belle accent is absolutely charming. Dialect Coach David Huber did a great job. It is great to see the talents of Claire Kaplan and Liliana Talwatte who are very good in intention, rhythm, and interpretation. Liliana's style is more paced which makes it part of her differentiating element. (using marketing terminology here). Anything Wendy Maples does will be good and ´Magnolias was not the exception. Her portrayal of the beauty parlor leader is so sweet and funny, and that hair! oh, what a stylish cool bob. I am sure Wigs and Makeup designer Peter Herman had a field day with all that hair because there are a number of wigs on this show. Annie Hinton as the "sin pelos en la lengua" brutely honest Ouiser is witty and what I appreciated is that you can also notice how the character observes the others within the plot giving it another boost of realness. With that, I have to also point an admirable direction note to Anthony Methvin. Since the actresses are in the salon the whole time when they sit on the styling chairs, they are facing the audience from the audience's perspective but, the characters are looking in the mirror, one that is not there but you can tell with the direction. There are even parts where they are talking to someone that is behind them and looking at the audience like when you are talking to someone through a mirror. Those little details totally make a difference. Costume Designer Jeanne Reith and Costume Assistant Lilymoon Perez did the best job with Dagmar Krause Fields in the role of Clairee. Wow was she a looker on the show from the hair all the way to the ankle bracelet and shoes, loved her look which was as imposing as her performance. I believe that the role of M'Lynn is the most challenging because, amongst its characteristics, there are two main ones which are a mother and daughter not seeing eye to eye and the pain while a child has to go through their trying times. Marci Anne Wuebben did a terrific job instilling that. All the cast is amazing and very well matched. The only thing I would tweak and maybe because it could be the playwright and/or the writing, is that as the audience is taken through Shelby's outcome, it goes from paced, to abrupt, to done. That takes you out a little bit, maybe the segway should be slower but the rest is very good.
Marci Anne Wuebben and Dagmar Krause Fields in Steel Magnolias. Photo Daren Scott

As I mentioned in the beginning, this is the type of content we need to ease us back to the stages and introduce new audiences to them. Especially with the 'vintage' super in style with the youngsters and all...

If you have the opportunity, go support good local theatre. Steel Magnolias is currently playing until September 17. For more information on performance dates and times, click HERE

No comments:

Post a Comment