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REVIEW: Classic 'Steel Magnolias' done right

Noted curmudgeon Ouiser (played by Julie Hart-Schutte), at left, laments M'Lynn's (Carol Grode-Hanks) husband's noise levels in her neighborhood, during rehearsal for "Steel Magnolias," which continues this weekend at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Pepsi-Cola Theatre in Mitchell. (Candy DenOuden/The Daily Republic)

By Julie Brookbank

For the Daily Republic

I must confess a bias for the newest show at Mitchell Area Community Theatre. I had the pleasure of directing this show for ACT in the 1990s at the State Theatre before it burned down. As "chick flicks" go, "Steel Magnolias" has been one of the best-known and best-loved since it was adapted for the movie screen in 1989. Film director Herbert Ross assembled an A-list cast for his film, just as director Terri Jacklin has done for her stage production.

ACT veterans Carol Grode-Hanks, Julie Hart Schutte, Julie Gross and Julie Hofer, along with newcomers Alisha Spurrell and Laura Keupp, do a terrific job reviving a show that many patrons will find familiar. Audience members will be treated to lots of laughs, as well as a few tears before the closing curtain. Superb acting is delivered throughout this production.

The story takes place in Truvy's beauty spot in Louisiana, circa 1986. Playwright Robert Harling wrote it in reaction to his own diabetic sister's death after the birth of her son and subsequent failed kidney transplant. That a male author has done such a fine job of capturing the culture of a women's beauty salon in all its gossipy glory is remarkable. Even more remarkable is the continued relevance of its story line. In the mid '80s, probably very few of us personally knew someone debilitated by diabetes, dialysis or transplant surgery. Today those conditions are all too common.

Grode-Hanks as M'Lynn and Spurrell as Shelby form a touching, believable bond as mother and daughter. Truvy (Gross) and Annelle (Keupp) keep the coffee on and the hair teased high, providing a homey, inviting place for the women to boast their triumphs, air their gripes and solve each other's problems. Hofer as town denizen Clairee Belcher brings a bit of glamour to the small parish. Hart Schutte is delightfully dour as curmudgeon Ouiser Boudreau. The cast members have developed an easy synergy and have obviously formed bonds offstage as well.

Al Jacklin's set design evokes an actual carport converted for Truvy's salon. Subtle props and set pieces allow for special touches, like running water in the shampoo sink and an exit door that appears to lead right down Truvy's driveway. Russ Quist's lighting design shines a bit bright in the first scene, but was adjusted as the stylist adviser Michelle Buchholz has provided her actresses with enough formidable professional hairdressing skills to look very convincing. And, full disclosure: that is my voice you hear as I was asked to record a short piece of radio voiceover for the second act.

"Steel Magnolias" has been discussed in depth for three decades. What can I add to what has already been said? That there is no better place to find friendship, support and laughter than with a good group of friends. Most of us have faced milestones like weddings and funerals, births and illness, ups and downs. All of these are made a little easier with our own personal gardens of friendship blooming with fragrant magnolias containing the strength of steel.

The show by Area Community Theatre has performances at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Pepsi-Cola Theatre. Tickets are $10 or $12, depending on seats, and are on sale at the theater, at 996-9137 or