Cathy Barnett, Jen Mays, and Karen Blackmon in Steel Magnolias (Padgett Productions)
There are few things I appreciate more than a bold new play or a fresh, innovative take on a classic. But even the biggest fans of the most experimental theatre can enjoy sitting back and letting the comfort of a familiar play wash over them. That’s the experience of watching Steel Magnolias at Padgett Productions: a straightforward, well-executed production of a beloved, well-worn classic that feels like spending time with an old friend—or rather, a group of friends, gathered together for company, gossip, and comfort.
Robert Harling’s 1987 play centers on a group of women at a hair salon in small-town Louisianna. The play spans about three years, starting with a wedding and ending with a death and covering all the life events, large and small, in between. Director Katie Gilchrist keeps the pace moving swiftly, lingering where it matters. The technical elements—Mark Exline’s beautiful set, Francie Kapono-Kuzila’s costumes, and Zan de Spelder’s lights in particular—are elegant in their simplicity, serving as an effective backdrop for a play that hinges on a sustained sense of casual closeness.
Ultimately, this is a show that rests on the strength of its cast. (And the script, but that has had 35 years to establish itself.) Fortunately, the women in this production—Teri Adams, Kimberly Horner, Erica Baruth, Karen Nicole Blackmon, Jen Mays, and Cathy Barnett—are up to the task. They have an ease in their performances and their interactions with each other that draws us in and allows us to relax into the rhythm of their daily lives, making sure we’re fully invested in each character and their relationships, from their petty fights over a backyard tree to the most momentous events of their lives. If it’s worth sharing inside Truvy’s hair salon, then it’s an important part of the full story of these women’s lives.
Padgett Productions does a wonderful job honoring a classic that is very much a product of its time—complete with bottles upon bottles of aerosol hairspray—without ever feeling stale. The production may not feel new—and it’s not supposed to—but it feels fresh and very much alive.
“Steel Magnolias,” a production of Padgett Productions, runs through May 21 at MTH Theater at Crown Center, 2450 Grand Blvd. For more information, visit www.padgettproductionskc.com.