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Theater review: Attic's 'Steel Magnolias' hits the spot

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steel magnolias

Traci Addison as Truvy (left) and Emma Boyer as Shelby in “Steel Magnolias” at Attic Productions.

You know a play has secured its place in contemporary culture when people riff off its title.

“They’re quite the ‘odd couple’” — emphasis on “odd,” recalls Neil Simon’s beloved 1965 Broadway show about a pair of hopelessly mismatched roommates.

More recently, “She’s a real ‘steel magnolia’” — referring to the kind of strong woman who makes her way through whatever life throws at her.

Theatergoers can see what we mean when “Steel Magnolias” completes its run at Attic Productions this weekend.

What fans of Robert Harling’s 1987 off-Broadway play might not realize is that it was based on actual events in his own life. In his welcoming remarks at the Oct. 9 matinee, director Chip Addison shared this bit of background about the playwright, including the fact that Harling wrote the play in just 10 days.

Addison did not reveal the story’s key plot point in his remarks, and we won’t either, so as not to spoil it for any newcomers.

But we will prepare those who have seen the 1988 film version not to expect the same experience — something one patron was overheard remarking about during intermission (though not unfavorably).

In the play, the action takes place in a small-town beauty salon in Louisiana run by the big-hearted Truvy. The salon has become a regular gathering spot for several of the women in the community: Clairee, widow of the former mayor of the fictional Chinquapin Parish; the eccentric, curmudgeonly Ouiser; and the proper Southern M’Lynn and her daughter, Shelby. Into this informal family comes Annelle, who gets a job at the salon to help her get through her crumbling marriage.

Addison is credited in the program as the set designer, and the presentation could not be more spot-on. Those who already love the show will feel right at home, and those who haven’t seen it will feel a rush of recognition.

In the opening scene, it’s Shelby’s wedding day, and the ladies are together as Shelby gets ready for the big event. Amid the everyday conversation and light-hearted gossip, the outlines of their lives begin to take shape. And this is the South, y’all, so there are laugh-out-loud wise-cracks aplenty!

The story unfolds over the course of a year, with the change of seasons mirroring the inevitable changes time brings.

Attendees will see in the program that there is an entire understudy cast, but on Sunday all the main players were on-stage, and each one did an exemplary job inhabiting their characters. Traci Addison is as warm as she is sassy as Truvy. Kris Sorensen is both dignified and deadpan as Clairee. Sandi Rhodes is priceless as the larger-than-life Ouiser (that’s pronounced “WEE-zer”). As Annelle, Ashley Light morphs nicely from shy and awkward to a young woman finding her way.

And then there’s Shelby and M’Lynn, whose life events drive the story. Patrons will be rooting for Emma Boyer as the plucky Shelby, whose optimism belies her challenges. And Melanie Fox shines as M’Lynn, perhaps the steeliest of them all. In a strong ensemble cast, Fox has a key scene in Act II that she knocks out of the park.

This is not the first time Attic has produced “Steel Magnolias” — the show is part of the company’s COVID-postponed 25th anniversary celebration that revives of some of their previous productions. If you missed it the first time, or even if you didn’t, give yourself a treat and come set a spell with some ladies you’ll be glad to know.

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