“Steel Magnolias” serves a few purposes for Hattiloo Theatre. The reliable, widely performed comedy/drama is appealing for its depiction of a range of Southern women brought together in that great equalizer — the modern-day beauty shop.
In August, the theater staged “Grease,” another play originally cast with white characters that Hattiloo has made its own. By casting African-Americans in these well-known productions, Ekundayo Bandele, founder and executive artistic director of Hattiloo, extends the appeal of the productions.
That, and the fact that a Lifetime TV version of “Steel Magnolias” had a stellar cast of African-Americans, made it easier to broaden the audience at a time when Hattiloo is anticipating a move to a larger facility in Overton Square.
The story is rooted in sisterhood, linking women of various interests and income levels into common cause.
Playwright Robert Harling manages to squeeze a variety of personality types into the six characters, who come in and out of Truvy’s beauty shop, over a period of three years.
The play works when the edges of those characters are sharply defined and allowed to contrast with the others. The Hattiloo production, directed by Irene Crist, is relatively sweet and soft-edged. The characters are appealing, and even the scenes of conflict and anger are gently presented.
There is a refreshing bite, however, coming from Ouiser, the snarkiest member of the sisterhood. Making the most of the character is Jacki Muskin, whose timing is terrific with physical moves and in delivering lines.
And Emma Crystal is a delight as Truvy, the glue holding the group together. Gia Broadway as the ever-changing Annelle brings some nice nuance to her performance, going from skittish to eager-to-please to born-again with authority.
The set is done up as a plain beauty shop, but it’s well staged, and it makes good use of the tiny space available.
Through Nov. 3 at Hattiloo Theatre, 652 Marshall.
Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays; 2 p.m. Oct. 26.
Tickets: $22; $18 students/seniors on Thursdays and Sundays. $25; $22 students/seniors on Fridays and Saturdays. More information: Call 901-525-0009 or hattiloo.org.