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DRAMA : 'Steel Magnolias' in Bloom Again : The Ojai Art Center Theatre production offers humor and heart in its portrayal of six women in a small Louisiana town.


The current Ojai Art Center Theatre production of Robert Harling's "Steel Magnolias" stands as a worthy and watchable enterprise, either in its own right or as a counterpoint to the (nearly) all-male "A Few Good Men" now playing in Moorpark.

Directed by Evelyn Raft, this is the second Ventura County production of "Magnolias" in recent memory, following by precisely a year the nice job by Camarillo's Faye Renee Dinner Theater troupe.

The 1987 play peeks in on six women living in a small Louisiana town, where they regularly congregate in the beauty shop run by the imperturbable Truvy Jones (Debra Massarella). The regulars include the dominating M'Lynn Eatenton (Judy Heiliger) and her newlywed daughter, Shelby (Sarah Meaney), wealthy Clairee Belcher (Nita Fouhse), and town character Ouister Boudreaux (Tish Winkworth), who is even more outspoken than the rest.

As the play begins, Truvy has just hired Annelle Depuy (Nancy S. Hawkins), a young woman with a somewhat mysterious past. By the end of the play, there's a death, an impending birth and a lot of "girl talk" about money, men and hair.

Harling, who comes from that southern part of the country, stays precariously on the edge that separates paying tribute to Southern women from patronizing them, only occasionally slipping over that line for the sake of a joke. In any event, the women are more character than caricature, which allows the author to mix humor and heart.

The performances were all fine last Friday, the occasional pauses and mangled lines (opening-night nerves?) causing no particular problems. None of the actors stand out particularly--which is a credit to the cast, director Raft and to playwright Harling for distributing the action rather evenly among the six.


"Steel Magnolias" continues through Sept. 25 at the Ojai Art Center, 113 S. Montgomery St., in Ojai. Performances are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights, with 2 p.m. matinees on Sunday and Sept. 19 only. Tickets are $8 general admission, $6 for seniors, students and Art Center members. Group rates are available. For reservations or further information, call 646-0117.

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