Live theater has joyously returned to one of the gems in Baltimore’s (and in the whole DMV area) performing arts scene. After being closed for almost a year and a half due to the pandemic, Everyman Theatre opened its 31st season with a beautifully-acted, funny, and poignant production of “Steel Magnolias.” (What will hopefully and likely be the standard for most theaters for now, audiences are required to show proof of vaccination and to wear masks.)
Everyman’s production of “Steel Magnolias” is the perfect reintroduction to live theater — full of joy, laughter, and tears…
The team at Everyman has not been idle and nimbly adapted while keeping its entire staff. Among other things, the theater provided wonderful offerings such as the streaming production of “An Almost Holy Picture,” resident company Bruce Randolph Nelson’s recent tour-de-force. (Read the review here).
The triumphant return was ushered in by remarks from Managing Director, Marissa LaRose, and Artistic Director, Vincent M. Lancisi. The audience also included enthusiastic staff and members of the residence company in support of the cast and creative of this marvelous show about the strength and resilience of six diverse women – proof that friendship and a good sense of humor are the keys to endure whatever life throws at you.
Unlike the 1989 Academy and Golden Globe-nominated film of the same name chocked full of famous movies stars (both male and female), the Drama Desk Award-nominee focuses solely on the six women and their evolution over a few short years. Though their lives are interconnected in many ways, the beauty shop is their social safe haven where they can bare all. The men are off stage and, in one case, heard. (The father of the bride uses a gun to shoot at the birds in a magnolia tree so they won’t poop on the celebration.) Director Casey Stangl has a stellar cast and utilizes their great talents to the fullest.
It is the 1980s in a small town in northwestern Louisiana. It is the morning of Shelby’s (Katie Kleiger) wedding. The ebullient, warm, and wise-cracking Truvy (Megan Anderson), has just hired a new arrival in town, Annelle (Heather A. Gibson), to help at her beauty shop as the ladies arrive. Annelle, a quiet, timid girl, escaping a deadbeat husband. We see her rebuild her life, finding religion as an enthusiastic born-again Christian, at times, humorously annoying to the rest of the ladies. Clairee (Nancy Robinette) is the widow of the former mayor who blossoms after buying the local radio station and traveling the world. She is always crossing swords with the wonderfully cranky and hilarious, Ouiser (Helen Hedman). The two play off of each other brilliantly and often steal the show.
Though everything in her life has to be the color pink, Kleiger’s Shelby radiates a complex balance of hope, strength, and determination to have a child and avoids the pitfalls of her character becoming too saccharin. As Shelby’s mother, M’Lynn, Beth Hylton is a powerful force — a mother bear who will do anything for her daughter even though she may disagree with her life-altering choices as a diabetic.
The creative team is also in top form. Milagros Ponce De Leon’s set is spectacular in its detail, complimented by Harold F. Burgess II’s lighting design and sound design by Twi McCallum. Costume designer David Burdick does a brilliant job capturing the 80s sensibility, notably Truvy’s loud and colorful jump suits. Kudos to the wig designer, Denise O’Brien, allowing the cast to perform slight of hand while doing hair.
Everyman’s production of “Steel Magnolias” is the perfect reintroduction to live theater — full of joy, laughter, and tears — and a healing balm in these challenging times.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 30 minutes, with a 15-intermission.
Advisory: Gunshots off stage.
Steel Magnolias runs in-person through September 5, 2021 at Everyman Theatre, 315 West Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD 21201. It can also be streamed online from August 27 through September 19, 2021. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling the Box Office at 410-752-2208.