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Commonweal's 'Magnolias' worth another try

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LANESBORO — If you feel like you've already seen "Steel Magnolias" too many times or know the story too well, make room for one more visit to Truvy's beauty salon down there in Louisiana.

Because if this is a story you once liked, the Commonweal Theatre production, which opened last weekend, will make you like it all over again. Even those not sure, can at least be enticed by the Commonweal to give it another try.

"Steel Magnolias," by Robert Harling, is, for its cliches and stale period references, ultimately irresistible. It's a crowd-pleaser, with likable characters and an even-handed mix of humor and sadness. And, as directed by Miriam Monasch, it feels honest.

For those who haven't seen the movie or a previous edition of the play, "Steel Magnolias" is about the lifelong friendship of four women who frequent a beauty salon. They love each other but don't always get along. The salon, though, is their bulwark against the outside world — the place where they celebrate and cry and deal with what life gives them.

As the story opens, Shelby, the daughter of the one of the women, is preparing for her weddin' day to a young lawyer. We find out that Shelby has a chronic illness, and we just know that hasn't been brought into the story for the fun of it.

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Shelby is played by Abbie Cathcart as a giggly, nervous bride-to-be who wants to make her own decisions — without overbearing input from her mother. As Shelby's mother, M'Lynn, Adrienne Sweeney has one of the better scenes when Shelby reveals one of those big decisions to her. We can see Sweeney's M'Lynn catch her breath and we watch her mind race ahead to potential catastrophe.

Stela Burdt is wonderful as the colorful, warm-hearted Truvy, who has a magical way of always saying the right thing. Jane Hammill, as Ouiser, sums up her character's personality by declaring, as she enters for one scene, "I could just spit." Betti Battocletti is another customer, Clairee, while Elizabeth Dunn is Annelle, newly hired as Truvy's assistant.

"We're all hateful, awful people," Shelby declares with relish as the gossip flows. "You're all so nice," Annelle replies.

Anyone of a mind to give "Steel Magnolias" another try just might agree.

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