As a reviewer, it can be a blessing or a curse to see the same play or musical multiple times. When I review a work I’ve seen before, I always try to judge it on its own merits. Such was the case for “Steel Magnolias,” which runs through June 5 on the OneAmerica Mainstage at Indiana Repertory Theatre. Of all the productions of this classic I have seen, including the most recent at Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre in 2020, this interpretation stood out for its exemplary comedic acting and superb production values.
Adroitly directed by Laura Gordon, the ensemble included Brittany Anikka Liu as Annelle Dupuy DeSoto, Susan Lynskey as Truvy Jones, Gina Daniels, as Clairee Belcher, Kate Abbruzzese as Shelby Eatenton Latcherie, Annie Fitzpatrick as M’Lynn Eatenton, and Naomi Jacobson as Ouiser Boudreaux. The same cast also performed in March at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, a shared venture with IRT.
The stage play (the hit film was released in 1989) itself has remained popular with professional and community theatres ever since it premiered on Broadway in 1987. Filled with love, laughter and tears, it was written by Robert Harling and based on his experience with his sister’s death. Set in the fictional northwestern Louisiana parish of Chinquapin, the dramedy takes place at Truvy’s, a beauty parlor and regular gathering place for local women. Truvy caters to her small-town clients with hairdos, manicures and all kinds of unsolicited advice. An added perk for her clients is the gossip that is engaged in at the shop. Although the play’s main storyline centers on soon-to-be married Shelby, her doting mother M’Lynn, and Shelby’s medical challenges, the show is really about relationships between women, and strong women at that.
The IRT ensemble was solid, featuring actors adept at delivering the many one-liners and zingers in Harling’s clever and funny script, which is full of snappy dialogue that sounded true to the ear and delivered in drawling Southern accents that were all consistent. Turning in standout performances were Abbruzzese as sweet and optimistic Shelby, Lynskey as attentive and nurturing Truvy, and Jacobson as curmudgeonly Ouiser.
Scenic designer Regina Garcia really captured the informality and warmth of Truvy’s salon, which is adjacent to her home. Complementing the realism of the set was the lighting designed by Jaymi Lee Smith. Holly Payne effectively costumed the characters in typical clothes from the 80s, and Melanie Chen Cole created a score that impeccably captured the time period.
With its themes of friendship, loss and community, “Steel Magnolias” is still highly relevant during these times of uncertainty caused by the shaky economy, lingering pandemic and other global events. Its lessons regarding the power of love, endurance, and needing humor to sustain us, remain universal and timeless.
For tickets and information about “Steel Magnolias,” visit irtvlive.com