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THEATER REVIEW: “Steel Magnolias” is as tasty as sweet potato pie

In a theater season rife with sure-fire hits and psychological comfort food, Lamb’s Players Theatre has jumped on the bandwagon with the hair rollers and Southern homilies of Robert Harling’s “Steel Magnolias.”

Both incarnations of “Steel Magnolias” – the 1987 play and the 1989 film with Dolly Parton, Olympia Dukakis, Julia Roberts, Shirley MacLaine, Sally Field and Daryl Hannah – have proven to be big sellers, at least with women. Lamb’s last offered it in 1992; this version runs through March 20 on its Coronado stage. Robert Smyth directs.

Chinquapin Parish, Louisiana is home to Truvy’s beauty parlor (well, actually a converted carport) – and gathering place for a half-dozen good ol’ gals who come to gab and gossip, whether or not they’re sitting in that chair.

“We enjoy being nice to each other,” Truvy (Kerry Meads) explains. “There’s not much else to do in this town.”

You’ll recognize at least some of these ladies, whether you live in Chinquapin Parish or San Francisco. Besides Truvy, the chipper anchor of the group, there’s mama hen M’Lynn (Deborah Gilmour Smyth) and bride-to-be daughter Shelby (Colleen Kollar Smith); worldly Clairee (Rosina Reynolds) with the raging sweet tooth; grouchy Ouiser (Rhona Gold), who notes that “The only reason people are nice to me is that I have more money than God,” and Truvy’s antsy, shy new hire Annelle (Season Marshall Duffy), who may or may not still be married.

The big event of this day is a wedding: Shelby’s tying the knot and coming in for the hair and nails thing. Mom M’Lynn seems overly concerned; she even fusses about Shelby’s color scheme: “blush and bashful,” says Shelby; “pink and pink,” counters mom.

Anyone familiar with stories about women will figure out immediately that a tragedy will befall someone. In this case, it’s not too difficult to guess who.

Be that as it may, Smyth keeps the delivery light and makes sure these actors stay on this side of the fine line between familiarity and stereotype: you won’t hear heavy Southern accents here, nor see fluttery hand gestures.

Meads is a stitch as the owner of the beauty parlor, with a funny one-liner for any occasion. Here’s a sample: “With the static electricity in here, I pick up everything except men and money.”

Smyth’s M’Lynn, the town’s social leader, is suitably mother henlike and worried about the wedding and everything else concerning excited bride-to-be daughter Shelby.

The town’s grandes dames, Reynolds’ Clairee (who misses being the mayor’s wife) and Gold’s cranky Ouiser (“I’m not crazy, I’ve just been in a bad mood for 40 years”) add ballast and more funny lines to the proceedings. And Duffy’s scaredy-cat Annelle is fun to watch as well.

“Steel Magnolias” is, let’s face it, a chick play; most [straight] men will be less than fascinated by talk of hair and divorce and nail polish (the unseen guys are outside shooting things). But women will relate, and Lamb’s has cast the best of all possible women for these roles.

The details

“Steel Magnolias” plays through March 20 at Lamb’s Players Theatre, 1142 Orange Avenue in Coronado.

Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.; matinees Saturday at 4 and Sunday at 2 p.m.

For tickets, call (619) 437-6000 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.