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Steel Magnolias

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Not since Oklahoma! has down-home pluck been so rhapsodized on Broadway. You can practically see the deep-fried halos appearing over the six exemplars of southern womanhood—naïve born-again Christian, crazy old tomato-grower, feisty mayor’s widow—as they wash each other’s hair, gossip viciously, and have meaningful conversations about Life (“I would rather have 30 minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special”) in a Chinquapin Parish, Louisiana, beauty parlor.

This eager-to-tearjerk revival of the plot-light 1987 Off Broadway hit by Robert Harling, who also wrote the screenplay for the 1989 film, is one of those cultlike shows. You either mist up at lines like “Smile! It increases your face value!” in which case you should get the girls together and bring the tissues, or you wince at the endless stream of hollow witticisms (“[She’s] so dumb she thinks Sherlock Holmes is a subdivision”), in which case you should stay out of the ladies’ way, just like those much-maligned absentee husbands.

While Frances Sternhagen and Christine Ebersole are delightful as always, much of the cast—particularly Delta Burke as Truvy—does little beyond piling on that kind of shtick, following every smart remark with an elbow to the collective ribs of the audience. Unless you’re in on the joke and go all mushy when you see your southern sisters easing each other’s womanly burden, you’re left only the mind-numbing chore of sitting around watching hair dry.

By Robert Harling
At the Lyceum Theatre


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