Regional Theater Review: STEEL MAGNOLIAS (Rubicon Theatre Company in Ventura)

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by Tony Frankel on September 5, 2011

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional

DROOPING MAGNOLIAS

One of six female denizens at a rural beauty salon in Louisiana states that, from the Southern male’s point of view, “You either shoot it, stuff it or marry it.” Well, that’s exactly what can be said about Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias, the much-too-often-produced comedy/tearjerker lately receiving a diverting but uneven outing at the Rubicon Theatre in Ventura:

Steel Magnolias by Robert Harling at the Rubicon Theatre Company in Ventura CA – regional theater review by Tony Frankel

  • You want to shoot this play when Truvy (Clarinda Ross) responds to a recipe of flour, sugar, and fruit cocktail by saying that it sounds rich; to which Clairee (Von Rae Wood) states, with no sense of irony, that she serves it over ice cream to cut the sweetness.  (It’s a laugh line unworthy of a 1980s’ sit-com.)
  • You want to stuff this production with better ensemble work. True, there are some gifted actresses who create some wonderful characterizations — all the while maintaining a lot of business such as shampooing with flourish — but they don’t seem to be organically listening to each other; there is no sense of history to their relationships (although I must admit that Bonnie Franklin has settled down quite a bit — with far less mugging — since her One Day at a Time sit-com).
  • Those who wish to marry this play are undoubtedly chick-flick loving women who fall in love with a hyper-sentimental plot and the notion that women are tougher than men (and bond better than men do); in fact, most of the unseen men either abandon their women, shoot guns at birds, or are gay.

Steel Magnolias by Robert Harling at the Rubicon Theatre Company in Ventura CA – regional theater review by Tony FrankelTo Harling’s credit, the script is littered with quotable bitchy lines that would please the most discerning of Drag Queens: “You are evil and must be destroyed” and “She thinks Sherlock Holmes is a sub-division.” But zingers or not, it’s a mediocre script (a fact which really came to light in the movie version), although for those who prefer an afternoon tea over a substantive dinner, this just may be for you. Still, this somewhat amused critic kept falling in between the cracks of shoot, stuff, or marry, ultimately believing that director Jenny Sullivan missed the opportunity to bring reality to the proceedings, which is exactly what this drooping magnolia sorely needs.

photos by James Scolari

Steel Magnolias
Rubicon Theatre Company
1006. E. Main Street in Ventura
ends on September 18, 2011
for tickets, call 805.667.2900 or visit Rubicon

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