The cast of CCP's "Steel Magnolias": clockwise from top left, Vickie Cornelius Phipps, Sarah McGee, Laura Baltz, Lori Raffel, Casey Votaw and Joellyn Young.

The cast of CCP’s “Steel Magnolias”: clockwise from top left, Vickie Cornelius Phipps, Sarah McGee, Laura Baltz, Lori Raffel, Casey Votaw and Joellyn Young.

 

Mrs K. and I attended last night’s second night performance of Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias, the second of our three evening blitz of classic American plays. This is the latest show in CCP’s season of plays about strong women. It was staged by first-time director Jason Gloye. Harling’s play is based on the loss of his sister to diabetes and served as an outlet for his grieving. It concerns the lives of 6 small-town women, each of whom has to face life’s difficulties and all of whom use a great deal of humor to do so. The title alludes to  “female characters (who) are as delicate as magnolias but as tough as steel”.

I believe the play is one of the funniest American plays ever written. If one were to count the laughlines – which come at a rapid pace through most of the show – there would have to be more than a hundred. Naturally, this gives the audience a laugh-filled, good time. Amazingly, Harling is able to match the abundance of intelligent, sometimes biting humor, with depths of sorrow – a stunning feat of writing. All his characters have problems – some greater than others, but all find a way to get through them with understanding and humor from their loving friends.

Gloye’s handling of this script and of his cast is superb. He is blessed with an outstanding cast and with few exceptions, the action is smooth, well-paced and sincere. The wonderful cast includes Laura Baltz as Truvy, who owns the shop in which all the action takes place and who is a romantic woman saddled with an unromantic life; Casey Votaw as the wayward Annelle – young, adrift and afraid; Joellyn Young as Clairee, the boisterous ex-“First Lady” of Chinquapin, LA; Sarah McGee as well-bred Shelby, fragile but strong, eager to live as full a life as she can; CCP veteran Vickie Cornelius Phipps as Shelby’s mother M’lynn, who lives with fear for her daughter’s fragile future; and Lori Raffel, leaving her director’s chair for a stint as Ouiser, the much put-upon neighbor, who knows any respect she gets is because she has “more money than God!”. 

These actresses form an ensemble of profuse proficiency; the lines flow out of them as if they were born to say them and their show of love for each other onstage seems genuine and real. The sense that all of them are having such a grand time performing this masterpiece of a play spilled out into the audience and allowed us all to become a part of the unity. Each actress did a splendid job in their own way, but I was especially taken by Casey Votaw, whose Annelle seemed like she walked right off the street and into the shop. Ms. Votaw used the map of her character’s ever-changing life to fill the stage with broad humor and a wide-eyed sense of discovery. Also, Sarah McGee and Vickie Cornelius Phipps, two actresses I have had the fortune to work with in the past, were especially fine and convincing in their mother/daughter portrayals.

In the play’s denouement, after the sorrowful climax which occurs off-stage and between scenes, the remaining five are riveting in their emotions. And though the splendor of the writing makes us wipe a tear and see grief in it’s truest sense – we are left knowing that everything will be all right because these ladies’ bonds are eternal.

This is a definite “must-see” show and it continues with performances tonight (3/2/13) as well as March 3, 7, 8, 9 & 10. Thurs, Fri, Sat shows are at 8 pm; Sunday matinees start at 2:30 pm. Go to http://www.carmelplayers.com to get online reservations or the reservation phone number.

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