Full bloom 

Talented cast delights in The REP's Steel Magnolias

click to enlarge Lookin good (from left): Sue Breeze, Jess Heinrichs, Ellen - Hietala, Susan Jensen and Stacey Wiens.
  • Lookin good (from left): Sue Breeze, Jess Heinrichs, Ellen Hietala, Susan Jensen and Stacey Wiens.

The 1989 film version of Steel Magnolias has become an icon among chick flicks -- cast with superstars and funny as all get out, with a tear-jerking climax that sends even the most hard-hearted viewers grabbing for a Kleenex.

The movie's greatest charm, however, lies in the spit-shined comic dialogue, borrowed directly from Robert Harling's stage play. Set in the fictional small southern Louisiana parish of Chinquapin in the late 1980s, all the play's scenes take place in Truvy's Beauty Salon, where old friends Clairee, M'Lynn and Ouiser meet and gossip, young waif Annelle comes to work, and M'Lynn's daughter Shelby comes to visit whenever she's home.

The play opens on Shelby's wedding day in April and ends the following November. (For those few out there who do not know the play's dramatic premise, I will refrain from sharing plot points.)

The Rep's fine new production of Steel Magnolias features a state-of-the-art set, designed by Christopher Sheley, that, it must be mentioned, is fully functional. One of the characters actually has her hair washed, set and dried during the course of two scenes. Pink and campy, the Fine Arts Center's Truvy's looks just like the place where your mother used to get a perm; all that's missing is the smell.

Under the direction of Springs theater veteran Hela Robran, this production of Steel Magnolias is as likable as the film and is marvelously acted. The ensemble cast even gets the deep Louisiana accent right, an accomplishment that cannot be said of the majority of the actresses in the film.

Stacey Wiens' Truvy is pretty and efficient, the true romantic of the group, filled with pithy wisdom and wit ("an ounce of pretension is worth a pound of manure"). And she's damn good with a teasing comb. As Clairee -- the former first lady of Chiquapin whose husband, the former mayor, has died -- Sue Breeze tromps around in impossible shoes, managing to interfere in every aspect of everyone's life while cheering on her beloved football team, the Devils. "At least he hung in there until the state playoffs," she muses, regarding her husband's death.

Julie Sweun's Shelby is fresh and authentic, a modern woman strongly influenced by these women who have raised her. On the night I attend, one of her lines gets the biggest laugh: "A lot of Mama's mental patients are born-again Christians, and I mean that in the best sense of the word."

Petite Jess Heinrichs is pleasantly woozy as Annelle, praying over the hairspray and handy with a glue gun. Ellen Hietala's M'Lynn, Shelby's mother, is a calm presence with a spine of steel, played with absolute authority.

Stealing the show is Susan Jensen as Ouiser, a bitter old broad with a sharp tongue and a soft but well-hidden heart. "I look like a dog's dinner," Ouiser announces as she enters Truvy's, and we immediately are captivated by Jensen's countenance, husky voice and impeccable comic timing.

A couple minor technical glitches with the sound system were the only flaws in this generous and warm production. Steel Magnolias' humor remains fresh 20 years after its debut, and The Rep cast and crew have given it new life with their fresh, fluid interpretation.

-- Kathryn Eastburn


Steel Magnolias

The Rep at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 30 W. Dale St.

Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m., through Jan. 22

Tickets: $16.50 for FAC members in advance, $18.50 non-members in advance, $20 at the door. Call 634-5583.


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