Robert Harling’s “Steel Magnolias” offers audiences a nice mix of sweetness, sass, tears and laughter, but not always enough of any of them in the new Players Theatre production.
The story about a group of Southern women who gather every week at Truvy’s Beauty Spot for hair stylings, gossip and sharing the ups and downs of family, work and relationship, still has some life in it, even after repeat viewings.
It looks lovely in the fluid production staged by Bob Trisolini. Even though Jeff Weber’s attractive set is really too large to establish the kind of intimacy Truvy’s should embody, the six actresses move naturally from shampoo station to hair driers and in and around each other.
The four scenes focus on the life of Shelby Eatenton, who is getting married on the day of the first segment, and later shocks her mother and friends by deciding to have a baby despite the dangers posed by diabetes.
While the play nicely mixes humor and feeling— “laughter through tears is my favorite emotion,” Truvy says at one point — the performers don’t always make it believable.
Half of them succeed at making the characters feel real. The others do well enough to help you buy into who they’re playing, even if you don’t really believe they’re being spontaneous.
In a play like “Steel Magnolias,” that spontaneity enhances the relationships and the banter.
There’s no doubting that Ellie Pattison as Shelby’s mother, M’Lynn, is living in each moment of the play — she makes you feel for her conflicted feelings of love, anger and support for her daughter. You also get a lot from Patti O’Berg as the football-loving Clairee and Betty Robinson as the old codger Ouiser.
Pattison has a nice relationship with the relatively new Amanda Heisey, who plays Shelby and is growing into her work as an actress. She does have personality on stage.
Robinson makes a welcome return to the Players as Ouiser, who always seems to be grouchy. “I’m not crazy, I’ve just been in a bad mood for 40 years,” she explains. Robinson makes her an intriguingly complex and yet still funny woman. O’Berg, who played Ouiser five years ago at the Manatee Players, brings a playful sense of adventure to the role, portraying Clairee as sweet with some bite.
As Truvy, Leona Collesano has a lot of spirit, but there’s a slightly rehearsed quality to her performance. Cullen White as Truvy’s increasingly religious assistant Annelle is pleasant, but we don’t fully see her growing into herself from the fragile shell she presents at the start.
The women look comfortable in Kaylene McCaw’s colorful costumes.
Having seen the play about a dozen times, I mostly smiled in recognition at some of the funniest lines instead of laughing at them, and while I know there’s a connection among the women, I didn’t always feel it.
But I appreciate the relationships and the story and can see how it will provide more of a kick for those who have had less familiarity with these formidable women.
By Robert Harling. Directed by Bob Trisolini. Reviewed Sept. 19, Players Theatre, 838 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Through Sept. 29. Tickets are $25-$30. 365-2494; theplayers.org