The little theater tucked away on the campus of what is now Greater Travelers Rest Baptist Church after a dormant period as the facility changed hands has reopened with a bang. The Renaissance Project play now on its stage is Steel Magnolias, the off-Broadway play by Robert Harling, who based it on his own family’s struggle to deal with the illness and death of his younger sister.
Once again, the Renaissance Project’s small and dedicated staff has pulled together a very worthy effort. This rendition of the comedy-drama delivers the roller-coaster of emotions with laughter and tears tumbling atop one another that has made the play, which became a 1989 movie and later a short-lived television show, so popular.
Those familiar only with the movie adaption of Steel Magnolias will notice a number of differences. The entire play is set in Truvy’s carport-turned-beauty salon, and the cast (except for a voice on the radio) is all women. The men are present only through the women’s commentary on them. But this is one of the play’s strengths. Imagining the odd assortment of men in their lives is funnier than actually meeting them.
Many of the really funny lines—such as when Truvy complains of the way her coat attracts lint by saying it “picks up everything but boys and money”—are actually old Southernisms that aren’t original with the play, but are worked in well and can draw a laugh even from those of us who have heard them before.
This production has a bi-racial cast, which might cause one to wonder if the story of a close-knit group of Southern-to-the-core women would feel credible with Black and White women all regulars in the same beauty shop. It does work. For one thing, this is the 1980s, not the 1950s, and the New South—if not fully emerged—is certainly visible.
In an all-around fine cast, Tasia Grant stands out as M’Lynn, the mother of a young woman who tries perhaps too hard to live a full life despite the limitations that diabetes has placed on her. Much of what M’Lynn is thinking and feeling must be communicated without words, and Grant rises beautifully to the task. Then when she does have an emotional speech to deliver, she delivers it with a wallop.
I found only one role a bit less satisfying. Deena Beasley as the grouchy and sarcastic Ouiser has some of the best lines—“I do not see plays, because I can nap at home for free.” I would like to have seen the more acerbic ones delivered with the sort of curmudgeonly sharpness that Shirley MacLaine brought to the movie role.
This is definitely a worthwhile evening at the theater, especially for those who live in south DeKalb County and might normally have a long drive as well as traffic and parking fees to contend with.
The theater is in the Greater Travelers Rest Baptist Church Edgewood Building at 4650 Flat Shoals Parkway Decatur. See–Lights on again at south DeKalb theater on page 5B–for details on dates and times.