“Steel Magnolias” – Scottsdale Community Players

This review aired on KBAQ June 9, 2014


Scottsdale Community Players, Stagebrush Theatre
Scottsdale, AZ

In Robert Harling’s “Steel Magnolias,” the audience eavesdrops on six gossipy women who go to the same beauty shop and babble about the group’s youngest member, Shelby, an uncontrolled diabetic, as she prepares to marry.  The show has been around since 1985 and is wearisome in this Scottsdale Community Players production.  This mediocre production won’t save this struggling community theater.

Why do such a tired, cliché-ridden, and shopworn play?  The only reason to produce “Steel Magnolias” is to present a stellar cast equal to the excellent movie ensemble.  In Scottsdale, everyone works hard but only two of the six person ensemble comes close to capturing the characters they portray.  The other performers play roles but never convince audiences that they are these Southern women.  You are always conscious of actors performing roles rather than inhabiting the people they portray.

The story seems silly and pretentious now but it is very real to these women and the society they inhabit.  The focus is on Shelby who is in denial about her diabetes as she faces marriage.  Her doctor warns her not to have a baby but she gets pregnant and after giving birth to a boy, she goes into kidney failure after rejecting her mother’s donated organ and she dies.  The remaining women have trouble accepting Shelby’s death and they chatter on and on about trivial things that impact their shallow lives.  When the play opened, it talked about awful things, but today, 30 years later, the story now seems contrived.  The carryings-ons over Shelby makes “Steel Magnolias” a quaint historical piece and it’s time to retire this play.

Director Judy Rollings tries hard to stage the play and turn this into a believable acting company but she never succeeds especially with a laggardly paced production.  Of the ensemble, the best is Maureen Dias who comes close to becoming M’Lynn, Shelby’s mother who tries to help her daughter understand her limitations.  Jamie Sandomire is idealistic as Shelby, while Jodie Weiss plays beauty shop owner Truvy with no special flair.  Ashley Faulkner plays scattered beauty shop technician Anelle with frazzled optimism but Laura Durant has her feet on the ground as Clairee.  Patti Davis Suarez is blandly uninteresting as the crazed, dog-loving Ouiser.

The Scottsdale Community Players “Steel Magnolias” isn’t anything special so if you’ve seen this overexposed play before, there’s no reason to trudge to Scottsdale in this hot weather to watch a boring production.  It continues through Sunday, June 15.  For tickets, call the Stagebrush Theatre box office at 480-949-7529 or order tickets online at www.greasepaint.org.

Grade: D