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Thursday, Apr 19, 2018
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Review: ‘Steel Magnolias’ sweet as Southern tea

Gossip, wisdom, laughter, tears and some funny lines are shared at Truvy’s Beauty Shop in rural Louisiana, where six Southern women gather in the American Stage company’s production of “Steel Magnolias.”

Such as:

• “Well, you know what they say, if you don’t have anything nice to say about anybody, come sit by me.”

• “I’m not crazy, I’ve just been in a very bad mood 40 years.”

• “Honey, time marches on and eventually you realize it is marchin’ across your face.”

• “The nicest thing I can say about her is all her tattoos are spelled correctly.”

Robert Harling’s play set in the 1980s is given a new flavor with a black cast under the direction of Bob Devin Jones and assistant director Sharon E. Scott.

This bittersweet story makes for an entertaining evening with a cast that delivers a solid performance.

Whitney Drake portrays Shelby, a strong-willed young woman who has struggled all her life with diabetes and risks her health by having a child. Drake recently played Dorothy in the St. Petersburg theater company’s outdoor production of “The Wiz.” Here she turns the pink-loving Shelby into a courageous and endearing character.

Fanni Green, a St. Petersburg native and University of South Florida associate professor in theater performance, makes an impressive American Stage debut as Shelby’s equally strong-willed mother, M’Lynn, a woman torn between being overly protective and letting her free-spirited daughter make her own choices.

The story centers on this loving but stressful mother-daughter battle of wills.

All the action and comedy play out in Truvy’s Beauty Shop. Tia Jemison, who has appeared in numerous Jobsite productions at the Straz Center in Tampa, portrays the ever-upbeat Truvy.

Jemison gives Truvy a lively, likable personality as the wisecracking cosmetologist who believes “there is no such thing as natural beauty.”

Some of the funniest lines come from two diverse characters, the grumpy, independent thinker Ouiser, portrayed by Perri Gaffney (with a sly smile), and the outspoken ex-mayor’s wife Clairee, played by Erica Sutherlin, who has good comic timing.

Gaffney and Sutherlin bring their characters to life with style and charm.

Gaffney, a theater veteran, has appeared in Off-Broadway productions as well as New York-based films and TV shows such as “Law & Order.”

Sutherlin, a filmmaker, director, producer, actress and screenwriter, has worked in numerous productions over the past 15 years.

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