Review: ‘Steel Magnolias’ by Wolf Pack Theatre Company

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Steel Magnolias, by playwright Robert Harling, tells the southern-style story of a group of women who grow close while hanging together in a small-town, northwest Louisiana beauty shop. Truvy Jones (Elizabeth A. Weiss) runs the shop with the help of timid yet bubbly Annelle Dupuy Desoto (Vanessa Berben), recently abandoned by her husband.

(L-R) Elizabeth A. Weiss as Truvy Jones, Jenny Madorsky as Shelby Eatenton Latcherie, Vanessa Berben as Annelle Dupuy Desoto and Allison Turkel as M'Lynn Eatenton in Steel Magnolias, presented by Wolf Pack Theatre Company. Photo by Rachel Zirkin Duda.
(L-R) Elizabeth A. Weiss as Truvy Jones, Jenny Madorsky as Shelby Eatenton Latcherie, Vanessa Berben as Annelle Dupuy Desoto and Allison Turkel as M’Lynn Eatenton in Steel Magnolias, presented by Wolf Pack Theatre Company. Photo by Rachel Zirkin Duda.

As the play progresses, we get the tragic storyline of mother and daughter M’Lynn Eatenton and Shelby Eatenton Latcherie (Allison Turkel and Jenny Madorsky respectively), and meet football-loving Clairee Belcher (played by Katy Chmura opening week due to regular Susan L. Smithers’ illness) and the hard-as-nails Ouiser Boudreaux (Lorraine Bouchard). As directed by William Dean Leary, Steel Magnolias is small town gossip, fly-on-the-wall fun.

Every Wolf Pack Theatre Company show features busy-yet-gorgeous sets, designed by Leary. In this case, Leary’s set included a vintage radio, old-school lamps, hair drying machines, barber chairs, and ’80s-style furniture. The set exhibited a good use of available space. Leary even created a beauty-shop-themed selfie-booth, in which audience members can take selfies with the cast, in a corner of the basement of First Baptist Church of Hyattsville.

This show features a dinner-theater option—for $30, twice the price of a regular ticket, you get dinner, with entree choices that include salad and jambalaya.

After exhibiting a dramedy feel in the first act, the laughs took off like a rocket in the second act. All of the cast exhibited in their characters, both fortitude and femininity. Lorraine Bouchard’s Ouiser (pronounced like weezer), the epitome of older southern womanhood, was grouchy as can be, creating much comedic tension with the other characters. Katy Chmura, also the Stage Manager, was all gossip and bluster in her role as Clairee. I enjoyed the energy she brought to the show.

Elizabeth A. Weiss’ Truvy was also a bit of a sparkplug in Steel Magnolias. She and the wonderful Vanessa Berben had a good chemistry as they carried the first scene, in which Annelle, new to town, proves herself worthy of being a part of Truvy’s Beauty Spot.

Katy Chmura as Clairee Belcher and Lorraine Bouchard as Ouiser Boudreaux in Steel Magnolias, presented by Wolf Pack Theatre Company. Photo by Rachel Zirkin Duda.
Katy Chmura as Clairee Belcher and Lorraine Bouchard as Ouiser Boudreaux in Steel Magnolias, presented by Wolf Pack Theatre Company. Photo by Rachel Zirkin Duda.

Allison Turkel and Jenny Madorsky brought pathos to the show as a mother and daughter facing the perils of matrimony, pregnancy, and illness.  Madorsky played the nuances of her unfortunate character arc well. Turkel was best in her quiet, pensive moments.

Leary has matured as a director and his actors’ cues were speedily picked up and his blocking was sharp. Assistant Director Tim Jansen (who has played Scrooge in Leary’s adaptations of A Christmas Carol) no doubt had good input.

Technical Director Stephen Beitzell was spot on as usual with the light and sound cues—including the voiceover and music of the fictional KKPD radio station. Beitzell had Technical Assistance by EJ Reynolds. Costume Designers Dannielle Beitzell and Eileen Murray Kraft gave the cast a distinctly late-’80s look. I especially liked the Christmas costumes. Steel Magnolias offers an evening of life, love, tragedy, and humor. It’s a delicious southern dish for a warm summer night.

Note: Dinner includes preset salad with balsamic dressing, jambalaya over white rice, cornbread, fruit cobbler a la mode, sweet tea or lemonade and coffee. Frozen non-alcoholic beverages available for purchase. A pasta dish will be offered for those allergic to shellfish or those who are vegetarian. Please arrive no less than 1 hour before showtime.

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

Steel Magnolias plays through July 22, 2018, at Wolf Pack Theatre Company performing at the First Baptist Church of Hyattsville, MD – 5701 42nd Avenue, in Hyattsville, MD. Buy tickets at the door or purchase them online.

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