"STEEL MAGNOLIAS," Caine Old Lyric Theatre, Logan, two-hour running time, $25-$9, 435-797-8022 or arts.usu.edu
LOGAN — Longtime patrons of the Old Lyric Repertory Company summer seasons in Logan have become accustomed to starting off the season with a can't-miss comedy or an over-the-top farce. But this year's opening offering takes on the challenge of taking the audience to a place it's not used to going.
Welcome to Emotion-ville, located somewhere between Shreveport and Monroe, La., and the home of "Steel Magnolias."
Sometimes light, sometimes very real, "Steel Magnolias" has moments of both sweet and sour. It is a bittersweet roller-coaster ride of emotions that ultimately satisfies as much as more-familiar comedies.
Opening night of the OLRC's season had audience members sliding their sleeves up to check their watches, as "Magnolias" began uncomfortably late. But gunshots in the opening moments quickly got everyone's attention and began setting the stage and introducing the all-female cast.
These introductions and stage setting almost became bogged down, but tight direction by Terence Goodman and well-paced patter kept the first act moving along. Audience members are introduced, in order, to beauty salon owner Truvy Jones (Arika Schockmel), Annelle Dupuy (Markaye Hassan), Clairee Belcher (Mitzi Mecham), Shelby Eatenton (Amanda Mahoney), M'Lynn Eatenton (Tamari Dunbar) and Ouiser Boudreaux (Jackie Fullmer).
Schockmel was just right, not overplaying her role as the owner of the beauty shop that provides the setting for the entire production. She could have easily tried to be the hub of the whole affair, but rather, she was a solid glue that kept everyone anchored, letting a couple of others take over as stars when needed.
Enter Mahoney. Playing the about-to-be-married Shelby, Mahoney was immediately likable. Right from her entrance she become a light on stage, utilizing the "mirror" effect (staring at the audience while inspecting hair, eyes and accessories as if a big salon mirror was present) very well and projecting perfectly.
And much like the gunfire which kept the audience on its toes during the first few minutes, Fuller came on stage and into her character with a bang.
The writing ("Steel Magnolias" was penned by Robert Harling, who also wrote "The Evening Star" for the screen) brightens up measurably with the arrival of Ouiser. She gets all the play's best lines, and Fullmer nails them all. Even her posture and facial expressions work to to take over the stage when Harling lobs up a softball.
All of the banter started by and surrounding Ouiser in both acts is when the production is at its best. One slight drawback was a hectic final minute to the first act in which a lot of dialogue was missed, due to being a bit, well, loud and over-hectic.
Interestingly enough, Dunbar is not especially noteworthy during the first act, maintaining an almost-constant pained face and some distance from the audience as Shelby's mother. But act two is a time of transformation on stage.
First, the transformation of Annelle, noted in both demeanor and appearance as she becomes much more independent and grows into her job at Truvy's Beauty Parlor. The more significant transformation, though, is seen through Dunbar's portrayal. Sympathy, love, forgiveness, anger and a couple other emotions are all well done and memorable, allowing the audience to really warm to the character.
"I'm really glad I came by" is one of the final lines from Dunbar — as M'Lynn, on a particularly tough day, to the others gathered for a Saturday gab and updo at the salon.
Those who make their way to "Steel Magnolias" will be saying the same thing this summer.
"Steel Magnolias" runs in repertory with "Private Lives," "Lend Me a Tenor" and "Big River."
Jay Wamsley lives in Smithfield and covers events in and around Cache Valley, including Old Lyric summer offerings. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.