Sunday, July 24, 2016

"Stale Magnolias"

Stale Magnolias
Sean Owens (Book & Lyrics); Don Seaver (Music)

Jef Valentine as Raven Looney & Robert Molossi as Spuvina Fetlock
It’s a feverish 102º in Rectal, TX, where the most shocking sight is “Texas women in 80s couture.”  The radio announcer on local KWHY has just announced the town’s oldest citizen, Miss Vita Brevits, has passed on to her heavenly reward after going on a sugar binge in protest of the introduction of New Coke.  The town’s prize bull has suddenly lost his will to spread his genes among the waiting cows, and C.C. Chesterfield is getting ready to greet her customers and sometimes-friends to her “Last Chance Salon” (as in often-dyed and much-ratted hair-dos), where the motto is “Natural beauty is no excuse.”

Once again, San Francisco’s Oasis plucks a much-loved (especially by gays and their pals) show from the past (in this case, the film Steel Magnolias) to create a pun-packed, no-holes-barred, drag-queen-filled parody, Stale Magnolias.  With book and lyrics by Sean Owens and music by Don Seaver, Stale Magnolias is loaded with the kind memorable lines that Oasis fans flock in hoards to hear -- quotable quips like “Memories are like hot flashes ... You don’t really want them but sometimes they’re all you got.”

C.C. Chesterfield is the proprietress of Rectal’s illustrious salon, where the town’s gentler sex gathers for beautifying, gossip, sweet tea, and air conditioning.  C.C. (played by Marilynn Fowler, the one real woman on stage) has a welcoming spirit, a sharp tongue, and a sweet soprano voice that is actually natural.  The story opens as she has just hired newly arrived Sugar Sweetly who was named at birth ‘Splenda,’ a name she decided was a poor substitute for the more desired ‘Sugar.’  With lips as red and wide as a big Christmas bow, Sugar (Michael Phillis) is not overly smart but is as nice as they come – except when she has sudden bouts of screaming anger.  Like others soon to visit the salon, she carries a dark secret locked deep in her heart and also in her car’s trunk about the priest she recently “took care of.”

Jerry Navarro is the snappy, snarky Louisiana Morales, smooth-sounding voice of KWHY.  Louisiana is better known in these parts by friends and traveling salesmen simply as “Loose.”  A performer on skates with a skirt barely covering the essentials, Loose has aspirations that an audition tomorrow will send her packing to New York City for the destiny she knows is in her future.  She also is immediately drawn to the lanky, stringy-haired but cute Sugar, who returns those subtle glances with smitten, silly smiles.

Into the scene rolls in her wheelchair Fanny Chaffer, infuriated at big-mouthed Loose who has just announced on the radio that Fanny is now the town’s oldest citizen (with Vita about to be laid to rest).  Fanny (Drew Todd) is an ol’ curmudgeon with a scratchy twang, a scowling frown, and a peaked head of white, puffy hair.  She claims to own the town’s supply of healing waters, which she declares in song, “It’s a wonderful thing ... Your lips take a sip, and you can hear the angels sing.”  (Sugar naively notes that the water comes out of the faucet brown, to which Fanny falls into fits and furies.)

Rounding out the morning’s drop-ins are two of the town’s socialites and upper crust (or at least, as upper as you can get in Rectal), Spuvina Fetlock (Robert Molossi) and Raven Looney (Jef Valentine).  Spuvina, a former Miss Squash Blossom Queen, and Raven, still reveling in her walk-on role decades previously in a Wes Craven classic film seen by dozens (“Terror Train”), are rivals to the core.  In a dueling duet, they trade barbs such as “You’re like a joke that the town’s forgotten” and “You spread your lies, spread your legs, and both are rotten.”

Believe it or not, all the above is just the set-up for much intrigue and hilarity to follow.  Stale Magnolias has more corn than a whole season of “Heehaw,” more rivalries and lies than Dyansty, and more true confessions and surprises than Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.  Why does that bull not hump?  What is in that purse that Sugar clutches?  Who did run over Spuvina’s husband with a rotter-tiller?  And why is everyone’s hair falling out?

Not only is it necessary to high-tail it to Oasis to find out the answers, the price of ticket also pays for must-be-seen-to-believe dresses (Jef Valentine) and wigs (Jordan L’Moore) that many drag queens would give a year of life to own.  Sarah Phykitt has also created a salon set that is pink and ‘purty,’ accentuated just right by Leonardo Hildalgo’s lighting.  Flown in with no regard to expense is the KWHY Band, with Don Seaver on keyboard and Mark Macario on drums; and they provide a slew of Texas-sounding tunes and sound effects to tickle your innards.

While this is a musical, the real strength of Stale Magnolias is in the punch lines of the book and the excellent caricatures of the cast (who for the most part, if truth be told, are not really stage singers).  And even with wackiness and wit, Stale Magnolias also has a story with twists and turns that surprise and lead to a ending with real heart and maybe even a message of what community really means. 

Oasis once again brings to San Francisco an experience hard to find any where else but in the City by the Bay and a reason to grab a ticket, order a drink, and enjoy the ladies of Rectal, Texas.

Rating: 3 E

Stale Magnolias continues Thursdays – Saturdays, 7 p.m. through August 6 at Oasis, 298 11th Street, San Francisco. through September 12, 2015.  Tickets are available at or by calling the box office at 415-795-3180.

Photo by Oasis

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