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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
The salon may have its proper complement of hair dryers, product-filled cabinets and comb-out stations, but it is the peripheral décor that defines the airy spacious bi-level salon. As the play progresses over the course of four seasons and a little more than two years, the bright yellow curtains, potted window plants, floral patterned furniture and wallpaper receive an array of extraordinary seasonal enhancements, all reflecting salon owner Truvy's more-is-more decorative instincts.
Of course, it takes more than the decorative arts to make a play. Harling has craftily braided plenty of crackling dialogue and a plethora of happiness and heartbreak through this appealing play that has had numerous regional productions over the years. Through the weekly gathering of regulars at Truvy's, Harling pays homage to those fondly and formidably remembered Southern belles of home. The play engagingly explores both the relationship between a mother and daughter and those of their close neighbors and friends in a venue designed for embracing a somewhat ritualistic sisterhood.
The true merits of the play are revealed in Karen Carpenter's brisk and attentive staging. Terrific performances from the all-women cast allow us to feel genuine affection for characters despite their mostly glib chatter. Harling, who based his play on real people and incidents, also wrote the screenplay for the film version that unfortunately has little resemblance, either in tone or spirit, to the charming, self-contained design of the play. Carpenter, an Associate Artistic Director of the Old Globe Theater, has filled up the expansive Paper Mill stage with plenty of amusing and attention-getting activity.
Much of it is in the hands of Charlotte Booker, who, as Truvy, the proprietress, is both endearing and a hoot in colorful get-ups and hairdos that would make the Ringling Brothers gasp. Truvy, whose motto, "There is no such thing as natural beauty, ," couldn't have a more delightful interpreter than the cosmetically perfected Booker. There is a joyful exhilaration in the comedic interplay between all the women, as well as a genuine poignancy achieved when the play moves beyond the expositional. Much is demanded of the actresses and much is forthcoming.
Kate Wetherhead is joy in the role of Arnelle, the dim-witted mousy born-again Christian salon assistant ("with a past,"). Kelly Sullivan is both pretty and a charmer as the ill-fated, think-pink Shelby whose wedding day preparations serve as the play's initial propellant. Getting her biggest and best dramatic licks at the end of the play when her personal tragedy is confronted and aired with the support of her friends doesn't prevent Monique Fowler, as Shelby's valiant mother M'Lynn, from being genuinely winning from the start.
Whatever you call it that Beth Fowler deploys as the feisty cantankerous Ouiser to works like a charm. Any actress who can authoritatively barge through an entire play with an attitude exemplified by, "I'm not crazy. I've just been in a bad mood for the past 40 years, ," has got my affection. Even the less idiosyncratic Claire, the money-to-burn radio station owner, is given a sturdy static-free delivery by Kelly Bishop (the original Sheila in A Chorus Line). All the accents are down pat, so sharpen up your hearing and head for Truvy's where hearts are touched even as hair is being touched up.
Try onlineseats.com for great seats to
The Little Mermaid
Shrek The Musical
The Playbill Broadway YearBook
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide