REVIEW: Steel Magnolias (Hubris Productions)

Hubris production could use a touch-up

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Hubris Productions present
  
Steel Magnolias
   
Written by Robert Harling
Directed by
Lavina Jadhwani
At
Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
Through July 31  | 
tickets: $25  | more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

steel magnolias_005The 1989 film version of Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias is one of the definitive chick flicks of all time: empowering, hilarious, emotionally devastating, and featuring one of the best female ensembles ever assembled on screen. Harling’s characters are southern women bursting at the seams with charisma, and they require the  larger-than-life personalities of a Dolly Parton or Shirley Maclaine to make their struggles spectacular. Directed by Lavina Jadhwani, the actors of Hubris’s Steel Magnolias lack the energy that makes these characters enthralling, resulting in a plodding production that never makes it to the emotional heights that the script has become known for.

Harling’s play depicts the key moments of diabetic Shelby’s (Sara Pavlak) adulthood – her wedding, pregnancy, motherhood, etc. – and how these events affect her mother M’Lynn (Stephanie Wooten-Austin) and other women of Chinquapin, Louisiana: salon owner Truvy (Calidonia Olivares), sardonic widow Clairee (Sharon Roseri), eccentric curmudgeon Ouiser (Lorraine Freund), and new girl Annelle (Jessica Maynard). In Truvy’s salon, these six women argue about wedding colors, gossip about local ladies, and experience the occasional breakdown in an environment free of testosterone. On paper, the generations-spanning assortment of personalities should be quite entertaining, but the potential of the characters isn’t reached by the ensemble.

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From the very opening scene it is obvious that Steel Magnolias needs a lot of fine-tuning: the actors stumble over lines, the comedy revolves too heavily on gags (Annelle drops things! A lot!), and Truvy’s hair is way too flat. That last one is just mind-boggling, as big hair should be at the top of any designer’s checklist for this show. As the production continues, the lack of chemistry between the actors makes it apparent that there is still much character work to be done, starting with a much needed jolt of electricity to the dull performances.

   
   
Rating:★★
   
   

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Theater Thursday: The Tallest Man – Artistic Home

Thursday, July 1st

The Tallest Man by Jim Lynch

The Artistic Home, 3914 N. Clark (map)

    

tallest manCome before the show to enjoy a pint of Murphy’s Stout and live Irish music with playwright Jim Lynch. Then stay for the show the Sun-Times has called "forged in the tradition of such grand Irish writers as Synge and O’Casey" and the Tribune called "delivered with such a wry topspin" and the Reader said was delivered with "raucous zeal". After the show, stay for an opportunity to chat with the playwright, director John Mossman, and actors about the world premiere of this charming play.

The Tallest Man (our review ★★★) is a wildly hilarious celebration of perseverance in turn of the century Ireland. It begins as a ghost story, but draws its power from the very real problems of the living. Culled from a childhood nourished by tales of Irish fantasy, this world premiere tells of hardscrabble survivors in County Mayo, a high-spirited young tinker struggling to stay one step ahead of the English landlords, and corrupt clergy and vengeful locals filled with prejudice and superstition. A charming and delightful classic, told for the very first time!

Event begins at 6:30 p.m.   Show begins at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets: $25

For reservations call 866-811-4111

   
   

REVIEW: Mami, Where’d My O Go? (at Lifeline Theatre)

Pull Your Sexuality Out of the Swamp in One Easy Spell

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t & t Productions presents
   
Mami, Where’d My O Go?
   
Written and Performed by Tosha Fowler
Directed by
Victoria (toy) Delorio
at
Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood (map)
through July 21st  | 
tickets: $13-$18  |  more info

reviewed by Paige Listerud

Tosha Fowler’s autobiographical one-woman show, Mami, Where’d My O Go?, is billed as a saucy, heaping helping of Southern decadence—sexy and supernatural, as in the mode of “True Blood” and touchingly, inoffensively feminist, just like “Steel Mami-4-DeIorio Magnolias.” But one wonders if this style of advertising might just do t & t Productions’ offering at Lifeline Theatre a tremendous disservice.

Yes, it’s a comedy about a young, modern Southern woman trying to get back life’s zest, lost with her inability to orgasm for four years. Now, after failed attempts in therapy, getting her O back requires invoking the African Goddess Mami Wata back at her family home in the swamp where she grew up. Nevertheless, Fowler roots her comedy in pains that run deeper than anything “True Blood” or “Steel Magnolias” ever touches. More than sexiness or spells, this is what defines Fowler’s work and makes it a far gutsier emotional sojourn for the proper Southern lady.

Directed by Victoria (toy) Delorio, Mami, Where’d My O Go? is about loss–and we’re not just talking the pleasures of the bedroom here. Caroline, a successful young Southerner, has pulled herself out of poverty and ignorance and moved on, at least physically, from her fractured family past. However, the loss of Grandma, who raised her, unanswered questions about her father, the crucifying sadness of her mother’s unloved existence—as well as Mom’s drug-induced death–pulls Caroline back to the pain she thought she could leave behind. Fowler diffuses the heaviness of Caroline’s losses by generously buffeting them with jokes about the old Piggly Wiggly, describing her former O’s as “bustin’ can o’ bisquits orgasms,” and sagely timed humor like, “Orgasms and daddies have nothing to do with each other—or, that’s been illegal in Georgia for quite some time now.”

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The psychological bones of Fowler’s work are solid and her emotional depth in performance simply goes balls to the wall. Her invocation of Mami Wata as part of Caroline’s emotional/sexual healing is nothing less than inspired. Fowler morphs quickly and easily between Caroline, her mother, and Irma DeVoe, the neighborhood priestess who guides the proceedings, giving a variety of voices to Southern women’s experience.

Mami 2 Pub Pic- photo credit- toy DeIorio All this charmingly funny, fantastically trippy one-act needs now is a strong editorial hand. Moving from character to character, from past shame to present day emotional need, still gets a little rambling and out of control. Also, at her mother’s funeral, Caroline tries to pour her cremated ashes into the swamp, managing only to get the ash all over her and the other family mourners. While this moment may indeed be autobiographical it is also, unfortunately, one that has been beaten to death in movies and late night comedy sketches. It should either be revamped for greater originality or discarded altogether.

Fowler’s play is like many from a new generation of Southern writers: crawling tooth and nail out of dire straits, cleaning oneself up to look like the rest of us shiny, happy Americans, yet still feeling tied to the old folks at home—the old folks with all their homey, backward, cherished and toxically shameful ways. Unfortunately one really can’t go home again, especially Caroline. But hopefully some pulled chicken, greens, creamed corn, and peach ambrosia will bring on the Goddess who can both hurt and heal you.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
  
  

Mami 1 Pub Pic-photo credit- nk Mooneyham

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