Steel Magnolias is a HIT! Read All About It!

Friday, March 11, 2011
Belles still ring true for audiences

By Barry Gaines
For the Journal

At Albuquerque Little Theatre I learned yet again why “Steel Magnolias” remains so popular. Put simply, the play maintains the difficult balance between comedy and tragedy, what one character calls “laughing through the tears,” and creates an affecting story of six women who form a protective and heartwarming community. Bill Potenziani’s direction and his strong cast do justice to the play, producing laughter and tears.
Truvy’s Beauty Shop is where the ladies of Chinquapin Parish, La., let their hair down. This tonsorial temple is carefully created by set designer Colby Martin Landers. Landers’ detailed and multidimensional set is inhabited by characters who are given detailed and multidimensional portrayals by the cast.
First there is Truvy, the sassy beauty parlor operator who revels in the joys and sorrows of her clients. JoAnne Blackstone conveys Truvy’s concern and compassion for her customers/friends.

“Steel Magnolias”
WHEN: 8 tonight and Saturday, March 12, and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 13
WHERE: Albuquerque Little Theatre, 224 San Pasquale SW
HOW MUCH: $22 general public, $20 seniors and $18 students. Call 242-4750 for ticket information

Truvy is assisted by Annelle, who begins the play as a mysterious stranger and is later born again as a Christian zealot. Christy Burbank effectively conveys the changes in Annelle. Early she is shy and uncertain; by the end of the play, her character has grown in confidence and presence. At times, however, she rushes her lines, making them difficult to hear and understand.
Samantha Blauwkamp displays fine comic timing in her portrayal of Clairee, the widow of the town’s mayor, another of the eccentric patrons who finds refuge under the hair dryer. As the cantankerous Ouiser, who has been “in a bad mood for 40 years,” Karen Paone is suitably crabby. It doesn’t take long, however, to see beyond her character’s frowns and tantrums to the essential humanity within.
Most of the drama is provided by Shelby and her mother M’Lynn. The play begins on Shelby’s wedding day. Her decorations will be “blush and bashful” — shades of pink. Pepto-abysmal. We soon learn of her illness that will test the resilience of all the women. Beth Paone Fuller plays the doomed girl with spirit and spunk.

As Shelby’s long-suffering mother, stage veteran Laurie Finnegan gives a wonderful performance. M’Lynn has the widest range of emotions, and Finnegan presents them all effectively. She can be slyly humorous and painfully distraught with conviction.

Robert Harling’s script threatens to run amok with sentiment, but its humor finally saves it from bathos.

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