A tribute to the charm and wit of Southern women, "Steel Magnolias" is a touching comedy-drama that shows the healing power of laughter and friendship.
January 19-February 26, 2017
As the women of Chinquapin, Louisiana, gather to get their hair done in Truvy's hair salon, they gossip and trade opinions about every day life. The women find strength and comfort in one another as they deal with life’s struggles, often through a fair amount of verbal ribbing. The undeniable bond of the "Steel Magnolias" first appeared off-Broadway in 1987 before the classic 1989 movie adaptation brought the witty ladies of Chinquapin to an entire generation.
by Mike Woody
Personally, my favorite movies, television shows and theatrical productions are those that contain both comedy and drama. One minute you are laughing, and the next are fighting tears of sadness (Check out Baskets on FX). Though I don’t remember a whole lot about the movie, the stage version of Steel Magnolias, at La Comedia through February 26, leaves you in tears from both laughter and heartache. Which for me is a sign of greatness.
All the action takes place within a beauty parlor, which is wonderfully designed by the stage crew, equipped with real running water. Now I know why it takes women so long to get their hair done, there’s a whole lot of talking going on. If all beauty parlors are like Truvy’s, I might have to change where I get my haircut, because it’s a fun place to be. I’m sure it would cost a lot more than $6.50, but hearing Ouiser’s rants would be worth it.
The owner of the beauty parlor is Truvy, played by Karie-Lee Sutherland who always seems to fit perfectly into every role she has a La Comedia. It’s a tall order to fill the ummmm shoes of Dolly Parton, who played the role in the movie, but she manages to do so. Sutherland may not match Parton in certain measurements, but they are equal in the southern charm given to Truvy.
The play (non-musical) opens on Shelby’s wedding day, which everyone is getting beautified for. While it’s an ensemble cast of six women, with none having a more prominent role than the other, the major plot lines revolve around Shelby’s (Hannah Brown) life. First is her marriage, then the decision to have a child despite having Type 1 diabetes and the resulting health complications. In her La Comedia debut, Brown provides Shelby with the endearing sweetness that puts her in the heart of the audience. Another name for Steel Magnolias could be 50 Shades of Pink, in reference to the colors that Shelby likes to adorn herself with. However, the title of 50 Shades of Pink, might present some false expectations.
In addition to having a mix of comedy and drama, I believe the greatest of shows also has a character that makes scenes better just because they are in them. Steel Magnolias provides that with Ousier. Like apple pie is delicious by itself, it’s even better when topped with a scoop of ice cream…Ouiser is the ice cream atop Steel Magnolias. Whenever she was absent, I found myself anxiously waiting for Ouiser to enter. The sharp-tongued senior citizen of the group, Ousier is played by Janet Brucken. Brucken is gifted with not only the ability to deliver her lines with perfection, but also with being able to speak loudly without saying a word. Much of the laughs are courtesy of Ousier, but there’s an instance where she delivers a glare to another character that can be felt all the way in the back row. At a time of division within the country, all can agree that Ousier is a treasure and Brucken’s performance is priceless.
The rest of the ensemble, or apple pie, are very satisfying in their roles. When the curtain rises, Annelle (Christyn New) is on her first day of work at Truvy’s, but by the second act she has immersed herself as part of the group. New allows us to see the inner growth within Annelle, which is a credit to her performance. Whether in prayer or creating a handmade craft, Annelle’s presence is a blessing. There is also Cheryl Salzman as Clairee, a football-loving widow of the town’s mayor.
The third and final ingredient of a great show is a scene that can stand alone and be heralded as excellent. Yes, Steel Magnolias has such a scene and ironically it’s full of both laughs and sadness. Plus it features Ousier. The scene occurs in the final moments of the show, which is highlighted by a heartbreaking performance by Linda Dew as M’Lynne, who suffers from an emotional breakdown. It’s a highly emotional scene and Dew puts everything she has into it. Even the toughest of the tough will at least have a little lump in their throat if not tears in their eyes. The mood is quickly turned to hilarity though, only I don’t want to spoil the joke.
The scene does include the line, “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion,” spoken by Truvy and it’s a perfect description of the feelings contained within Steel Magnolias. Don’t miss this great show, which continues at La Comedia through February 26.
Mike Woody is a life long resident of Dayton, and has a passion for writing, which is good because he doesn't excel at much of anything else, except eating.
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