“I find it amusing. Men are supposed to be made out of steel or something.”

Last night, we went to see the first show in the REP East 2008 season, “Steel Magnolias”. This play was written in 1987 by Robert Harling. It is set in a beauty salon in rural Louisiana, and tells the story of six southern women: Truvy, Annell, M’Lynn, Shelby, Ouiser, and Clairee. The play begins on the morning of Shelby’s wedding to Jackson (an unseen character) and covers events over the next three years, including Shelby’s decision to have a child despite having Type 1 diabetes and the complications that result from the decision. Over these years, we see the friendships grow between the women, see the relationships mature. We see people change as self-confidence is gained and life moves on. But what underlies it all is friendship and strength. The title refers to that strength: “magolias” are a reference to southern women, and as for the steel, M’Lynn says it best when she indicates that men are supposed to be made of steel, but women are actually stronger. In 1989, the play was made into a movie (with additional characters) starring Dolly Parton (Truvy), Olympia Dukakis (Clairee), Shirley MacLaine (Ouiser), Sally Field (M’Lynn), Julia Roberts (Shelby) and Daryl Hannah (Annelle). We first saw the play in 1988 when it was at the Pasadena Playhouse (during the Lars Hanson era, which they no longer seem to admit), starring Barbara Rush.

Continuing to think about this play, it is interesting to contrast it with “Cuttin’ Up”, a play early last year at the Pasadena Playhouse about African American barbershops. In that play, the focus was on the barbershop’s role in passing heritage. Do white barbershops do the same? Perhaps, but I do think that they may pass values. In “Steel Magnolias”, we see these values being passed: friendship, caring for others, love for friends, love for God. Perhaps the white/black false distinction has been on my mind of late, given my comments about black audiences, as well as my thinking about Obama and Hilary: Why is it that Obama is considered “black” when he has a black father and white mother. Isn’t he equally “white”? For all we say, we haven’t gotten past color (and no quoting Avenue Q).

REP East did their usual supurb job on this play. There were a few line hesitations, but that was about it. The acting was supurb, the set was remarkable (including working sinks!), and the costumes were gorgeous. I’m sure you want to know who did all this remarkable work.

The acting cast consisted of Nicole Dionne (Annelle), Willow Hale* [IMDB] (Ouiser), Erin Michaels (Truvy), Julie Sanford* (M’Lynn), Ryann Turner (Shelby), and Von Rae Wood* (Clairee). All were very strong, and kudos should go to whomever did the casting.

Turning to the technical side: The production was directed by Mikee Schwinn (who is now the managing director of the REP), assisted by Jennifer Rennels-Magon. Stage management was by Lauren Pearsall. Sound design was by the ever-capable Steven “Nanook” Burkholder. Lighting was by Tim Christianson, with an excellent set design by Jeff Hyde (I was amazed with what he did with the small and limited space that the REP has). Costumes were by Ryan Todd. All of this was overseen by the artistic director, O Michael Owston. The show continues through February 16.

Dining Notes: Dinner before the theatre was at Cathy’s Deli, at 23120 Lyons. We found them through our Entertainment Book. They were very good, reasonably priced, and should serve as an additional pre-theatre selection. A few years ago, the space used to be Danny’s Deli, so there seems to be something about deli’s in that space.

As for us: Next up on the theatre calendar is “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” at the Kirk Douglas on 2/5 @ 1pm. After that is “Orson’s Shadow” at the Pasadena Playhouse on 2/9 @ 8pm. The weekend of March 6-8 we’ll likely see “Grease” at Van Nuys High. Also sometime in March will be “W;t” at REP East (it runs 3/7 through 4/5). March 15 brings “Jekyll & Hyde” at Cabrillo Music Theatre, followed the next day by “Sweeney Todd” at the Ahmanson. There are a few shows I’m thinking about via Goldstar, such as “The Kid From Brooklyn: The Danny Kaye Musical” at the El Portal through 2/24; “1776” at Actors Co-Op through 3/16; “Caberet” at ICT Long Beach through 3/9. That’s our current 1Q08 in theatre, as we know it now.