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'Magnolias' bloom

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‘Steel Magnolias’ Arkansas Repertory Theatre Sept. 11 During one act of the Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s “Steel Magnolias,” the six women sitting around Truvy’s beauty shop joke that one of the ladies’ husbands would not dare come down to Truvy’s because “it’s women’s territory.” That same thought might have entered this reviewer’s mind a few times. But passing on seeing the Rep’s “Steel Magnolias” would have been a mistake, even for a guy. Robert Harling’s play about six women of various personalities who gab and gossip and console each other through troubling times is loaded with great performances and terrific lines that both sexes can appreciate. Director Robert Hupp has assembled a balanced cast with no weak links. Some parts, of course, are juicier than others, and none have more bite than Candyce Hinkle’s Ouiser or more wit than Judy Trice’s Clairee. They are the older ladies who have experienced it all and impart their wisdom in their own way. (Hinkle is reprising her Ouiser role from the Rep production in 1988, and she’s obviously relishing every moment.) Lori Fisher is Truvy, the beauty shop owner who complains, but with wry humor, about the couch-potato husband she supports. Though we didn’t see the film “Steel Magnolias,” we can guess that Fisher is mimicking the voice of Dolly Parton in the Truvy role. The beautiful Kelly Mares carries the role of young, soon-to-be married Shelby with grace. Erin Moon, who recently appeared with the Rep in its Wildwood Park show, “Much Ado About Nothing,” plays the young, shaken Annelle, who takes a job at Truvy’s and grows up into someone who can give and take with this sixsome. The most emotional part belongs to Laurie Dawn, as M’Lynn, Shelby’s mother, who deals with a daughter who is hell-bent on being her own girl. The emotion built to the final act Sunday until Dawn had tears flowing throughout the packed house. But Trice and Hinkle brought the house down with humor and kept the play from becoming just a tear-jerker. Hupp’s actresses deliver their lines with punch; he positions them at times in pairs so that there’s action going on across Mike Nichols’ marvelous set. It’s fun to follow. Hupp has set the production to classic 1980s music to give a feel of that era. “Steel Magnolias” is one of the most complete and perfect productions the Rep has put forth in years. It continues through Sept. 25. Call 378-0405 to reserve a seat.

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