The Column Online



by Robert Harling

DVA Productions, Inc.

Director – Sheran Keyton
Set Design – David Ruffin
Light Design – Nikki Deshea
Costume Design – Sheran Keyton

Truvy Jones – Jennifer Bridgewater
Annelle Dupuy Desoto – Faye Austin
Clairee Belcher – Evette Perry-Buchanan
Shelby Eatenton Latcherie – Kenneisha Thompson
M’Lynn Eatenton – Michele Rene
Ouiser Boudreaux – Karen Petite

Reviewed Performance: 6/9/2013

Reviewed by Elaine Plybon, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

Life is full of laughter, sadness, joy and loss. Robert Harling, after the death of his sister due to diabetes, penned the play Steel Magnolias to reflect the way his family coped with the death through their tears, their humor and the support of friends. His play, expertly written, captures the essence of real-life through brief moments in the lives of six women in northwest Louisiana over a period of two years.

Steel Magnolias has been a favorite on stage and screen since it first debuted Off-Broadway in 1987. It was adapted to film in 1989, starring Sally Fields in the role of M’Lynn, Julia Roberts as Shelby, and Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine, Daryl Hannah, and Olympia Dukakis in supporting roles.

The entire play takes place inside the beauty salon owned by Truvy Jones. The cast of six women tells the story of what happens outside of the salon through lively dialogue. The ability of writer Robert Harling to introduce characters who will never be seen and describe scenes through dialogue makes the action inside the beauty salon a delightful peek, as if through a window, into the private lives of the six women who regularly visit the salon and the two stylists who work there.

The director, Sheran Keyton, promised the audience before the show that if they had never seen the show, they were in for a treat and if they had seen the show elsewhere, they would find it like a new show because of the strong and lively cast. And indeed, I have to admit, although I’m quite familiar with the play, I left the theater feeling as though I had just seen it for the first time. Keyton’s ability to bring together a cast whose chemistry was evident and who expertly tackled the ups and downs in the lives of their characters made this production well worth seeing.

The set, designed by David Ruffin, spans across a low stage in the black box Sanders Theatre and is comprised of beauty salon furnishings, including a shampoo station, two hairdressing stations, a nail station, waiting area, reception area and two doors, one the entrance to the salon, the other a doorway to a storage room. The set was well done and a suitable representation of a salon housed in a converte carport, with used chairs, old dryers, and worn seating. There was an occasional off-period product on the tables, such as Bed Head hair products, which were first introduced in 2003 – nearly twenty years after the action in the play takes place.

Costume design by Sheran Keyton was styled to the 1980’s with a few minor exceptions such as the modern jeans and shirt worn by Annelle when she is first seen. However, the ample use of shoulder pads, pantsuits, costume jewelry and other 1980’s attire made up for this. I appreciated the attention to detail, such as the changing hairstyles of Clairee, Ouiser and Shelby over the years.

When performing in a small cast such as this, actions and portrayals can be magnified, and this cast did an excellent job of taking on the persona of their characters and interacting well with each other throughout. There was the occasional loss of words or skipping of lines, but because the cast worked so well together and maintained their characters, these incidences were quickly and deftly covered.

Having seen Kenneisha Thompson in previous roles as a skilled ensemble actress, I was happy to have the opportunity to see her in the leading role of Shelby. Thompson carried the role seamlessly and with skill. Her portrayal clearly showed the turmoil that lurked under the positive and bubbly persona Shelby wanted the world to see, and each time she was seen on the set she skillfully depicted the increasing frailty of a body ravaged by diabetes. Casting Thompson in this role was a perfect choice and the chemistry between her and Michele Rene, who portrayed her mother, was tangible and natural.

Michele Rene was fantastic in the role of M’Lynn. From the moment she walked onto the set, she exuded motherhood worry and the strength that would carry M’Lynn through the trials ahead. Rene never faltered from her role and the monologues during the final scene were moving, not only because of the well-written script but because of Rene’s ability to exhibit the range of emotions a mother would feel when experiencing the loss of a child. From sorrow to anger to laughter, Michele Rene took us on a journey through pain in just a few minutes, resulting in sniffs and the dabbing of many eyes in the audience.

Clairee was played by Evette Perry-Buchanan in a smooth and expert way. Her timing when delivering humorous lines was superb and contributed to some of the funniest moments in the show. At the same time, her ability to move from that humor directly into the pain and loss Clairee was processing was impressive.

The role of the grumpy neighbor, Ouiser, was played by Karen Petite. Her brash exterior was appropriately transparent to reveal the deep caring and compassion she felt for the women in the salon.

Jennifer Bridgewater, in the role of Truvy, was entertaining and buoyant. As the proprietor of the salon, Bridgewater simultaneously played hostess and confidant with ease. Her bubbly demeanor and playful smiles added familiarity to the ensemble.

The newcomer to town, Annelle, was played by Faye Austin. Through Austin’s portrayal, Annelle came across as shy but very much in tune with the personalities in the group. Her comic delivery of some of the more subtle punch lines in the play was spot on and a genuine asset to the production.

The entire play consists of four scenes in two acts and the time past quickly as the quality of the script and the skill of this cast carried the audience swiftly through the action. Whether you have seen Steel Magnolias before or whether you are seeing it for the first time, this production is worth seeing for the reality to life and the opportunity to ponder the fragile nature of our existence.

DVA Productions
Sanders Theater, Fort Worth Community Arts Center
1300 Gendy Street, Fort Worth, Texas 76107

Plays through June 16th
Shows are Friday-Saturday at 8:00 pm, and Saturday - Sunday at 3:00 pm.

Tickets are $20.00 for evening performances and $15.00 for matinees.

For more information, visit Tickets may be purchased online, by calling the box office at 817-313-3052 or at the door, if available.