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Theatre Review: "Murder in the Magnolias"

Southern Secrets, Romance & Mystery

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What happens when you parody characters and plots from almost every Southern play imaginable, and sprinkle them with the flavor of "Gone With The Wind"? You get the hilarious "Murder in the Magnolias" by Tim Kelly. A former drama critic, screen and television writer, and journalist, Kelly is particularly noted for the broad scope of his work which covers everything from mysteries to musicals to serious drama, including "Always Marry A Bachelor," "The Butler Did It, Again," "The Empty Chair," and "Fog On The Mountain."

"Murder in the Magnolias" is a farce with a special tribute to Tennessee Williams. If you're familiar with "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," "Streetcar Named Desire," and "The Glass Menagerie," then you'll love this extreme-Southern play sprinkled with familiar names, themes and symbolism from these three masterpieces by Williams.

In "Murder in the Magnolias," Colonel Rance Chickenwing has kicked the bucket, leaving the secret of his buried treasure for a houseful of demented relatives to discover. There’s Bubba Kamrowski, who juggles bowling balls in a luncheonette; the delicate Blanche Du Blank, whose fiancé drowned in the quarry behind the Veronica Lake Casino; Thornbird, the flaky poet, whose personality is split in so many ways, he’s fractured; the cartoonish Lawyer Possum whose only paying client is an alligator. There’s the movie queen, Princess Lotta Kargo, who claims she’s the Colonel’s wife, and Amanda Chickenwing, who attempts to sell subscriptions to the Tudball Tattler.

Soon, there’s another death and the mystery at Belle Acres must be solved by Sheriff Billy Jerk. Toss in a prehistoric garden complete with murderous honeysuckle vines, yapping hound dogs, a VooDoo Woman, a menacing hurricane, a suspicious state engineer and a series of devastatingly hilarious "monologues", and you’ve got a pretty good idea of the fun in this off-the-wall spoof.

As a Southern girl banished to the Midwest for thirty years, I always welcome a Southern-theme play or setting. "Murder in the Magnolias" doesn't disappoint--the variety of Southern kinfolk and strangers in this play is worthy of any Alabama family reunion, where even the relatives have a hard time remembering who's who! The colorful characters are expertly portrayed by this ensemble cast.

Some of my favorite characters--just to mention a few--include Ashley Nicole Hendricks's portrayal of Princess Lotta Kargo, a mediocre actress with a flamboyant style that's fun to watch. This is Hendricks first onstage performance and she adds a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the show.

John Harris appears in several roles and makes the slow-speaking, Southern gentleman characters believable in all his scenes. Joshua Jones outdoes himself conveying the many sides to his character as he takes on the persona of Thornbird Chickenwing, III. Trey Johnson as Pete Bogg is about the only sane person in the house and, therefore, is a refreshing breath of air in all the lunacy.

I have to admit that Lindsay Sylvester has the best costumes as the beautiful Blanche Du Blank! Sharon Shew as Amanda Chickenwing (is that chicken feed, turkey leg, chicken foot or chicken luck? Everyone gets it wrong in this play!) is kept busy trying to make heads or tails of the whole murder mystery and comings and goings as the lady of the house. Gina Pratico as Jezebel is the long-suffering maid who hasn't been paid in over seven years and gets left very little in the will of old Colonel Rance Chickenwing. Scott Cancel is truly believable as Bubba (doesn't everyone have one!) Kamrowski.

Anthony Argo has done a great job of directing this show, with the assistance of John Hightower. Once again, Bob Baker, Gary Knight and Anthony Argo have done a great job of set design. Criss Ashwell and Rodney Pruitt were in charge of lighting and sound execution.

If you have never been to The Renaissance Theatre, I urge you to go see this show in the new Alpha Stage downstairs. It's cozy and intimate and you are allowed to have refreshments during the show! A great Southern play with a whodunit, Southern charm and lunacy and a talented cast--you really can't beat it. Order your tickets now.
Performance dates:
June 4, 5, 10, 11, 12, 17, 18, & 19 at 8 p.m.
Sunday Matinees, June 6 and 13 at 5 p.m.

Tickets are $14

Renaissance Theatre at Lincoln Center
1216B Meridian Street, Huntsville, Alabama 35801
256-536-3434 | 256-536-3117

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