The JDRF brilliantly conceived of raising funds by juxtaposing art and life in terms of juvenile diabetes’ horrific impact. Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias highlights the toll the disease exacts on family and community. The JDRF is the leading global organization focused on type 1 diabetes research. The organization’s goal is to improve the lives of every person affected by T1D by trying to cure, better treat and prevent the disease. As Maureen Fitzgerald, the organization’s director, stated before the play started, its objective is “less until none.” Harling’s play enables audiences personally to become involved with a T1D sufferer.
When I walked up to the Lucille Lortel Theater (121 Christopher Street), I encountered an audience eagerly anticipating seeing Sarah Stiles, Annie Potts, Bythe Danner, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Jan Maxwell, Margo Martindale and Kevin O’Rourke perform. The lines Harling provides for his beauty parlor ensconced Louisiana woman’s community are funny to the extent that the seasoned actors broke character to laugh out loud along with the audience. I was struck by the fact that a New York audience, consisting of many men, found southern accented women exuding southern female culture to be so uproarious.
Let me share some of Harling’s most effective lines in terms of New York audience response with you:
“There is no such thing as natural beauty.”
“He is a real gentleman. I guess he takes the dishes out of the sink before he pees in it.”
“I’m not crazy. I’ve just been in a very bad mood for forty years.”
“All gay men have track lighting.”
“She is so dumb she thinks Sherlock Holmes is a subdivision.”
A young protagonist named Shelby dies from diabetes amidst a barrage of sharp tongued pointed female dialogue. The disease is as relentless as the woman’s verbiage which cannot shield them from its insidious implications. As I smiled upon hearing the New Yorkers’ good natured response to “intermission y’all,” I thought of how the disease must be placed in remission and eventually ended. Or: curtain down on diabetes, light the life.
The juxtaposition between art and life was brought poignantly home when Harling addressed the audience at the end of the play. He directly said that everything the play portrays is true. He explained that he wishes “to commemorate the strength and power of women when they come together. Father does take the dishes out of the sink when he pees. It is important that we all play a part in someone’s else’s story. Listen to the voices you love and if you’re lucky you’ll hear them forever.” Harling granted the real version of Shelby immortality.
When I participated in the post-performance reception held at the Veranda Restaurant (130 7th Avenue South), I had the opportunity to ask Harling how he as a man could write such perfect female dialogue. “I listen and write it down,” he answered. Then I told the actor who played Shelby that her performance was convincing to the extent that I was glad that she was not dead. “Me too,” she animatedly answered.
To make sure that my assertion will also hold true for me for at least the near future, I resisted the exceedingly fattening desserts on offer. This truth will give me more time to wish that diabetes will become a future fiction. In Fitzgerald’s other words which address Harling’s artisitic words: “less until none.”