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A dude’s reflection on girls’ night out

By |2018-01-16T12:37:46-05:00May 19th, 2011|Entertainment|

By John Quinn

I rarely reference film when doing theater reviews, because it’s as useless an exercise as comparing Red Delicious to Valencias. But if you’ve seen the film “Steel Magnolias,” you just haven’t seen “Steel Magnolias.” If the film is the ultimate “chick flick,” then this might be the mother of all chick “plays.”
Y-chromosomes in the audience at The Box Theater were definitely outnumbered by better that 10-to-1 on opening night. Included among the “gene x-ers” was a contingent in the characteristic scarlet and purple of the Red Hat Ladies. Did I feel out of place? No – I am, after all, a professional. (Did that need quotation marks?) Does an audience of women “get it” better than I do? Oh, yes. A lot of the laughs and tears were of a “been there” nature. “Steel Magnolias” strikes a particularly feminine chord. Oddly enough, the playwright is a GUY!
So how can a mere man write so sharply about the other sex – especially women within the confines of that sanctum sanctorum, the beauty parlor, where, as the script says, man dare not set foot? The answer is sad, but not unusual in the arts. Playwright Robert Harling drew on his own loss. The story is based on the death of his younger sister, Susan Harling Robinson, his best friend and closest sibling. His friends advised him to write about his feelings as a method of coping. His original short story took on a life of its own, his characters growing more complex as he found the emotions that existed within them. Thus a play was born.
It opens in the home-based hair salon operated by Truvy Jones (Rebekaf Tiefenbach) in Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana. It’s a special Saturday, because the daughter of her regular client, M’Lynn Eatenton (Julie Fuller), is getting married today. Shelby Eatenton (Julie Spittle) is a headstrong handful, driving mother nuts as she tries to make “her” day the best it can be. As Truvy and her new assistant, Annelle (Lauren Fuller), work on mother and bride, more regular customers drop in. These include the crabby, twice-widowed Ouiser Boudreaux (Mandy Logsdon) and her friendly foe, the ruthlessly upbeat Clairee Belcher (Megan Applegate). Gossip and barbs hang thick as hairspray. The tone turns more serious when, a few months later, M’Lynn finds that the diabetic Shelby has defied all medical recommendations and is going to have a baby.
The theme explores the eternal tension between parent and child; but the complex interplay of family and friends as anchors in bad times is no less important. While director Michele Colosi gets solid performances out of her cast, the script does have some dead spots that a savvy director can disguise. Pacing is everything. The work of director and actress is at its best in Julie Fuller’s deft handling of the turbulent emotional conflict in M’Lynn. Her characterization demonstrates the play’s title: a woman tough as nails who can keep her femininity intact.
Why should other dudes want to see “Steel Magnolias?” Foremost, it’s good entertainment. Secondly, it’s a chance to show that significant other in your life that you embrace your sensitive side. Gentlemen, grab your handkerchiefs!

‘Steel Magnolias’
The Box Theater, 51 N. Walnut, Mount Clemens. May 14-15, 19-22, 26-27 & June 3-5. $16. 586-954-2311.

About the Author:

BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.