Tough As Steel, These Splendid Magnolias Are Radiant

October 17, 1990|By Tim Weinfeld | Tim Weinfeld,Contributing theater critic

The Carroll Players is but one of many professional, educational and community theaters that patiently awaited the release of the production rights to Robert Harling's immensely popular "Steel Magnolias."

When the film version finally made the money hoped for, theatrical rights were released and the poignant and humorous story found a home on stages coast to coast. There are or will be five productions of the play in this area, and it is the most-produced script of the season nationally.

Selecting a recent popular film as part of a theatrical season is always a mixed blessing. It all but ensures audience interest and large houses, but it poses serious problems for the actors, who feel compelled to live up to the characterizations in the film, to which, unfortunately, theirs will be compared.

This is unfortunate, because the movie has almost nothing to do with the spirit and intent of the stage play, and the film's characters were more personalities than persons.

The playwright makes it very clear in the introduction to his text that, "The women in this play are witty, intelligent, and above all, real characters. They in no way, shape or form are meant to be portrayed as cartoons or caricatures."

Fortunately, director Mark Provance and his company of women believed what they read and acted on it. On only a few occasions did any of the players push her character beyond the limits of credibility and humanity.

Provance has directed with intelligence and taste, and it is good to see him emerging in a positive way after a series of roles in which he did little to distinguish himself. This effort certainly demonstrates that the Carroll Players have found a directorial hand to hold.

As a Carroll Players audience member since 1970, when they played in a church hall as the New Windsor Community Theater, I have witnessed a number of plays and players. This company represents the very best in ensemble playing. The listening, reacting and responding are clear, sharp, real and almost totally believable.

While the ensemble is truly the core of the production, there are some performances demanding of attention. Chief among these is the work of Stacy Shaffer and Gloria Elliot as the beauty parlor operator and the terminally ill Shelby, respectively.

Shaffer labored long and hard as a stagehand and crew person too many times before we finally got to see her promising debut in "Any Wednesday."

Her performance in "Steel Magnolias" realizes all expectations and predictions. She is awesome in the true sense of the word.

The informative program tells us that this is Elliot's first stage appearance. What an auspicious debut! Her Truvy captures all the dichotomies and nuances that the playwright so carefully supplies. Hers is a character that demands audience attention, and Elliot effects this with grace and wit.

Hilda Uhlig is an engaging Ouiser, but lacks the dialect that puts the finishing touch on the play's other characters.

Joan Crooks, as the mother, continues to grow and glow as an actress.

Her performance would take her character further if the director had allowed greater physical and attitudinal contact with the daughter.

Denae Baker Chandler gets all the fun and most of the change in her character, the tightly wound fundamentalist, Annelle. Of all the characters, this is the one that invites over-extension, and Baker occasionally steps over the line.

Nancy Moore has grown enormously as an actress, and her work is increasingly more believable. However, a lack of "musicality" in her delivery continues to limit complete acceptance of actress as character.

The set designed by Dean Camlin and Jan Holman is a joy to behold. And Kathy Beavers' properties finish it off in high style. There is no question where the action of this play takes place, thanks to their fine and careful efforts.

For some reason, the lighting in this production seems inadequate -- maybe because everything else seems so much more than adequate.

But even in half-light, this production radiates a light of its own.

"Steel Magnolias" is not to be missed.

"Steel Magnolias" will run Friday through Sunday and Oct. 25 to 27 at Frock's Sunnybrook Farm in Westminster. Saturday's performance will benefit the Literacy Council of Carroll County. Information: 876-7415.

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