Review: 'Steel Magnolias' at Peterborough Players

Angelica Potter

OnStage Massachusetts Columnist

Closing out their inaugural winter season, Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias, directed by Gus Kaikkonen, takes the stage at Peterborough Players. Set in Chinquapin Louisiana, the play features six strong female personalities who regularly “catch up” in Truvy’s beauty shop. It is clear from the start that they live in a small town and are a close-knit group of women who always have each other’s backs. Each of the four scenes portrays a significant day in the lives of these women.

The play is based on events in Harling’s personal life and was later adapted into a popular film of the same name. I, for one, have not seen the movie so my viewing of this play was with fresh eyes; something I think few others in the audience could say. While they may have seen the movie version, their consistent laughter during the production points to their enjoyment of the original staged version. 

The detailed set featured 1980’s décor, with a nice blue accent color on the salon chairs, pictures of big hair styles, and various hair color options. Scenic designer Charles Morgan included a working sink with running water in the beauty shop that added to the production’s authenticity. Additional technical aspects that added to the overall production quality include the props design by Jessica Ayala, sound design by Will Howell, lighting design by John Eckert and costume design by Anthony Paul-Cavaretta. 

Act one got off to a rocky start with a set mishap, a few dialog issues and a leisurely tempo. But once the second act began, the emotional stakes were elevated and the dialog moved more quickly. The cast seemed more secure in their lines in the second half which aided in their believability. Their southern accents were good, but went in and out during the show and varied by character. The cast had good chemistry and their one-liners were spoken with a good comedic punch. The mother daughter relationship between M’Lynn (Lisa Bostnar) and Shelby (Katelyn Manfre) was well played and believable. It was great that both Brenny Rabine and Alycia Kunkle, as Truvy and Annelle, were able to actually work on the other ladies hair throughout the scenes as if they were actually hair stylists. It really made the scenes more realistic. 

Alycia Kunkle was delightful as Annelle. She spoke with a high pitched voice, inflecting her lines up as she said them. Her characterizations, emotions and expressions were the strongest and most consistent throughout the production. Brenny Rabine, as Truvy, had great projection and her lower pitched voiced contrasted Kunkle’s nicely. “Laughter through the tears” was one of her best lines and one that I think many in the audience could relate to the moment she said it. Kathy Manfre portrayed Clairee, while her real-life daughter Katelyn Manfre portrayed Shelby.  

Pamela White’s portrayal of Ouiser was seemingly one dimensional with little variation, but having not seen the play or the film version before, I’m unsure if that was or was not an intentional character choice. Lisa Bostnar delivered an emotionally varied and strong performance as M’Lynn. Towards the end of the play the somber, quiet mood is broken when she emotionally loses it over her daughter’s fate. Bostnar was fervently and believably distraught. It was the most powerful and emotional part of the show. Sniffling could be heard around the theatre. The audience was clearly impacted by her performance and felt her pain. ©

The play runs just over 2 hours including a fifteen minute intermission and is rated PG.     
Steel Magnolias plays on the Peterborough Players stage, 55 Hadley Road, Peterborough, NH, until February 26th. For tickets call the box office at 603-924-7585 or check out Photo: The Cast of Steel Magnolias. From left to right: Pamela White, Brenny Rabine, Katelyn Manfre, Alycia Kunkle, Kathy Manfre and Lisa Bostnar.

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