Portraying “laughter through tears” is a tough proposition: Highlight the one-liner comedy too much, and it’s vaudeville; over-emphasize the pathos, and it’s saccharine.
That’s the challenge taken on by an accomplished ensemble of half a dozen actresses working with Robert Harling’s time-tested camaraderie-plus-tragedy play, Steel Magnolias. Their efforts lead to a good but imperfect production at the Civic (through March 21).
Spoiled, perhaps, by the 1989 movie, viewers may forget how difficult it is to get the tone of Harling’s play just right. His dialogue teeters between being delightfully heightened for the stage and being too clever to be credible: “The only thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to accessorize.” “We went skinny-dipping and did things that frightened the fish.” “The nicest thing I can say about her is all her tattoos are spelled correctly.” “An ounce of pretension is worth a pound of manure.”
Homophobes and zealous Christians come in for some spoofing in Steel Magnolias, but it’s gentle nudging, really. Conversational topics hop around, following their non sequitur paths only to dead-end in realistic ways. Director George Green keeps the six-way conversations going at a lively pace, even if he succumbs to some static blocking in the second act, when everyone stays rooted to the same spots for quite a spell. Green’s production steers a mostly humorous course. The cast members, in their various ways, are all willing to make themselves look and sound ridiculous. (And that takes some bravery.) The payoff is the solidarity among them, the sense that these six women, over and above all the joking and sniping at each another, really do care for one another.
... with half a dozen more paragraphs in Thursday's Inlander.
[ photo by Young Kwak for The Inlander; Kelsey Strom (left) as Annelle and Molly Parish as Truvy ]