Little Town, Big Hair

When it rains, it pours, and that’s not just a timely Canuck weather reference to the goddamn downpour that just doused the City (but seriously, where was that shit when I was baking all day in the kitchen?  Stoopid weather).  But what I meant is, after a solid week in which I didn’t see a blessed thing to review at the theatre (which hasn’t happened in a LONG while now) I’ve now seen two shows in the last two nights, and now I’m backed up again!  A nice feeling I gotta admit, so now that I’m all caught up on chores and stuff, it’s time to dust the cobwebs off this creaky old blog and tell you all about what’s happening in theatres these days.

First up is the latest from the century club kids at the Ottawa Little Theatre, still going strong on their 100th season with their latest, STEEL MAGNOLIAS by Robert Harling, and directed by Tom Taylor.  Now, in a non-shocking revelation update, I’m not a particularly macho guy.

I still get misty-eyed if I so much as THINK about this.
I still get misty-eyed if I so much as THINK about this.

That being said, I’d steadfastly avoided seeing MAGNOLIAS all these years, mostly familiar with its legendary chick-flick status thanks to the Julia Roberts movie adaptation.  And boy, do I hate me some Julia Roberts..!  But I digress.  Her absence, however, was enough to convince me to head down to the OLT to finally check out the tale.  And as often happens when I go to the theatre, I’m glad I did.

Set in a small town beauty parlor in Louisiana in the big-haired 80’s (photos of Heather Locklear and Morgan Fairchild grace the walls), the joint serves as a sort of hangout/safehouse for a group of local ladies, run by endlessly cheery gossip hound Truvy Jones (Suzanne Costanza, who could power all the lights in the building with her onstage energy).  Joined by constant companion and widower Clairee Belcher (Maureen Quinn McGovern, a comic gem) and new employee Annelle (Kirby Naftel, spot-on as the twitchy newcomer), we meet the gals on a special day in town.  Neighbour Shelby Eatenton (Chandel Gambles, a newcomer to Ottawa according to the program, and a very welcome addition if this performance is any indication) is getting married, and she and her stressed-out Mom M’Lynn (a quietly wonderful Linda Webster) need some gussying up.  While taking care of that, and dodging a few bolts of wit and wrath from visiting curmudgeon Ouizer Boudreaux (Charlotte Stewart, who amazed as Grandma in LOST IN YONKERS last year and continues to be just wonderful), the pieces of our story begin to fall into place.  We follow our gals along over three acts, each jumping forward a few months as they variously find religion, get pregnant, travel the world, battle illness, and of course, get their hair done.

Easy to see why this story is well-loved, and this is easily one of the finest ensembles I’ve yet seen on the OLT stage.  Nary a false note in the bunch, and for such a meaty script, that’s no easy feat.  Some of the onstage interaction between Stewart and McGovern are hysterical, and Gambles and Webster are just plain heartbreaking.  This is a really funny, really sincere and really good production with a ton of heart, that makes me kick myself even harder for missing COME BLOW YOUR HORN last month.  And of course, it goes without saying that it’s always a treat to see a stage full of women getting to let loose on a killer script, and any show that features the line “I’m not crazy…I’ve just been in a bad mood for 40 years” qualifies as killer in my book.  I think this is going to be another hit for the OLT, so get your ticket now and thank me later.  Peace, love and soul,

Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)

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