When I was a freshman at BYU I wrote a few articles for the Student Review, BYU’s longest-standing, most-successful (but now totally defunct) independent student publication. After writing a few excessively praiseful reviews of Thee Martini concerts, I decided to expand my oeuvre and flex my humor-abilities by reviewing a Michael Mclean CD. For those of you who don’t know, or were trying to forget, Michael Mclean is a “popular” maker of inspirational LDS music. The cold-hearted would easily label his music as cheesey, sappy, or dumb – at least, that’s what I had decided it was as a freshman without having listened to it. After only hearing his name tossed about a bit I made up my mind that his was lousy stuff and set out to give his stuff a real thrashing. One afternoon I borrowed a CD of his from my roommate’s brother, put it into my stereo, got out a notepad, and sat back and began to listen, waiting for a vitriolic review to spring from my most cynical side. But as I sat alone in my dorm room and listened intently to the words of Michael Mclean (hoping that at any moment some line would strike me as especially ridiculous and inspire my ire) I found myself listening more and more closely to the words of the songs and felt a horrible, irresistible connection developing between myself and the lyrics. I put down my pen. I could speak no ill of Michael Mclean’s music that day. His sappy but simple messages of hope and gladness had touched a grouchy freshman’s heart.
Fast-forward to last Friday night. I’m sitting at home, short on activity ideas, thinking that I’d probably accept just about any offer that might come my way. And then I get a call from my friend Steve. Steve gets near-free tickets to plays and musicals all the time, once before I got to go see a new Woody Allen play with him and some folks thanks to these magic tickets. Anyway, Steve tells me he’s got 3 tickets he’s trying to get rid of to a new show on Broadway, and he was wondering if I was interested. And I think: “Cheap ticket to something? Sure I’m interested.” But then I ask, “What’s the show?” And Steve says, “Well, that’s the problem. You see, it’s . . . it’s . . . Steel Magnolias.”
I was being invited to go see the Broadway production of Steel Magnolias?
Quickly I asked myself: “Self, what do we know about Steel Magnolias?” All I could come up with was: Movie. I’ve never seen it. Julia Roberts. Women. The South. A pizza parlor? (Turns out I was thinking of Mystic Pizza, another early Julia Roberts film). Does it have anything to do with Fried Green Tomatoes? Women. For a moment I was a little weirded-out about the idea and pretty sure I was about to renege on my acceptance, but, drawing heavily on the fact that I had just been telling myself that I was willing to take up almost any offer that came along for the evening, I stuck with it and agreed to meet Steve at the theater.
On my way to the theater, I decided that, if anything, maybe Steel Magnolias would be dumb enough to inspire some scathing criticism that would make for good bloggin’ and in the time that passed between accepting Steve’s invite and heading for the theater I was told by a traveler about to depart for Scotland that (regarding the filmic version of the work) “Only a robot wouldn’t cry at Steel Magnolias.” So I thought that maybe I’d be winding up writing a funny (facetious) review about how I cried through the whole play or whatever. So, by the time the curtain went up, I was pretty psyched up to watch the play with a very critical eye, enjoy it in a very negative way, and then have at it later with (hopefully) humorous results.
And, well, wouldn’t you know that I pretty much really liked the play and would even probably see it again.
A coward would ditch his mean-review-gone-wrong right now, but I’ll stick around a little longer and try to say what I liked about the play without going too overboard. Because it’s not like I LOVED it. It’s not like I bawled my eyes out. But the Steel Magnolias, it was a little dagger, it stabbed at me a bit, and while I didn’t succumb to any twisting of the blade, I felt the most direct cuts a little. A little, I said. Actually, I don’t know what more to say about the show: it had six women, they were funny. They weren’t dumb. That pretty much took care of it. And while the big disaster of the play could be seen from a mile away, it was still kind of sad when it happened, and all the Magnolias had to pull through and hug each other. I suppose it helped that the actresses were all a little famous: Delta Burke (who I had seen in Thoroughly Modern Millie), Rebecca Gayheart, Cliff’s Mom from Cheers, and two other women who all got sufficient applause when they first came on stage, so they must have been famous to someone.
If I have any solid gripe with the play, it’s that never is the expression “steel magnolias” used in the dialogue. Magnolias the flower are mentioned very briefly in the first act, but barely even allegorically. I suppose I had hoped that in the final group hug of the final act one of the ladies would have said “Yes, we’ll make it, because you know what we are girls? A bunch of steel magnolias, that’s what we are, y’all.” But maybe such a line would have only satisfied the side of me that wanted to be making fun of Steel Magnolias, not, well, you know, having fun at Steel Magnolias.
I can’t believe I put this on the internet.
Oh, wait. Here's something that was bad about the play: there were two or three topical jokes that were slid into the play, and while I'm not saying I read the script and know that these were made up later, but the jokes were so awkwardly direct the actresses might as well have been winking at the audience as they told them. So take that, Steel Magnolias.