Tacoma Little Theatre on North I Street is one of the longest running community theatres in the United States. Celebrating its 95th anniversary, TLT has brought nearly a century of live performances to the local community.
The area is mostly residential, so finding parking near the start of the show can be tricky. When arriving on time, the lobby will be empty. The ushers are quick to help you claim your ticket and show you to your stiff and squeaky seat. It’s advisable to show up early for introductions to get settled in.
Steel Magnolias, directed by Elliot Weiner, was performed through Nov. 3. Written by Robert Harling in the mid-’80s, the play was a result of Harling’s personal experience; Harling’s sister died from complications stemming from type 1 diabetes.
Going into this performance vaguely aware of the premise, I found myself in the dark theater shifting uncomfortably in my squeaky seat, staring into the harsh, orange-hued stage set up as the interior of a beauty salon. Taking place in Chinquapin Parish, La., the women on stage sent me into a culture shock. I found myself thrown into an estrogen-fueled cacophony of realistic Southern accents and mannerisms.
Truvy (Stephanie Leeper), the bubbly owner of the salon, has just hired shy, awkward Annelle (Jessica Robins) to work for her. The rest of the characters trickle in, and soon you’re in a room of southern women socializing about their hair, their neighbors, and the upcoming wedding which they’re preparing for.
I almost felt like I was sitting in on someone else’s family. Each character brought such a great variety in personality. Interacting with each other with such ease and fluidity strengthens the viewer’s impression that the characters have a long history of friendship.
Gossip-loving Clairee (Dana Galagan) and cranky Ouiser (Carol Richmond) add a layer of depth through their comic relief. Sometimes the only reminder that I was in a theater was the barely noticeable hesitation for the room to quiet after a scene sent the audience into a burst of laughter.
Reality of the play hits when Shelby (Gretchen Boyt) has a diabetic episode in the parlor. The theater became instantly and helplessly silent as the women rush about to tend to her.
Heightened by the palpable energy in the room, I no longer thought about the uncomfortable cushion of my seat or the ‘80s decor. Remarkably I was no longer a spectator in the audience. The audience and I were experiencing together what the characters feel.
Every development in the story, every loss and every relief become part of the story’s whole experience. The character development is notable as each scene brings you into another chapter of the lives of these six women. Delivered by a powerhouse of phenomenal actresses, one moment can carry you from tragedy to laughter.
I don’t find many occasions when I connect so fully with a story, whether it be in a movie, television series or a book. When M’Lynn (Kathi Aleman) breaks down after the death of her daughter, it was difficult to not tear up.
“We here at TLT are committed to bringing you the theatre you want to see, and the theatre you didn’t know you wanted to see,” new managing artistic director Chris Serface said.
Steel Magnolias was a direct representation of that statement. It can be easy to forget what it means to applaud. Seeing a live performance where you feel what the characters feel and share that experience is what moves you to do so. TLT is a local gem worth treasuring.
It’s never too late or out-of-fashion to start attending local theater.
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