In a small town like Chinquapin Parish, Louisiana, the beauty salon is the center of life. Truvy’s Salon offers more than manis and haircuts, it’s also the location for an informal support group, providing a sense of security and unconditional love. In “Steel Magnolias,” currently playing at Children’s Playhouse of Maryland, we’re introduced to a group of talented actresses who make Truvy’s their home away from home. The women have spunk, heart, and Southern charm – and of course, really nice hair.
As with all Children’s Playhouse of Maryland productions, the cast is amazing…
The play opens the day of Shelby’s wedding. Over the next three years, we eavesdrop on the women of Chinquapin Parish, experiencing Shelby’s diabetic crash, a risky pregnancy, and a medical emergency and complications. We see Truvy’s assistant, Annelle, grow from a shy and anxious outsider to a married woman and born-again Christian. Clairee, a wealthy widow and owner of the local radio station, travels and shares her new-found knowledge. And ornery Ouiser, who has “been in a bad mood for forty years,” gripes and complains (her bark is worse than her bite). Although the main storyline involves Shelby, her mother M’Lynn, and Shelby’s medical battles, the underlying friendship among all six women is prominent throughout the production. As M’Lynn states at the play’s conclusion, “You have no idea how wonderful you are.” To which Truvy responds (in her sassy Southern way), “Of course we do.”
As with all Children’s Playhouse of Maryland productions, the cast is amazing, with each character clearly drawn. Truvy (Nyani Hawkins) presides over her salon with sass and style. Sophia Possidente as Annelle perfectly portrays a timid, anxious girl who gains confidence and finds her own way in the small town. Emily Davis transforms into Clairee with ease and surety. Alexis Arthur is completely believable as M’Lynn, the mother who just wants what’s best for her daughter. Her emotional outburst towards the end of the show has us all feeling her grief and pain. And Olivia Winter plays Shelby with conviction — full of confidence, empathy, and Southern charm. As for Ouiser, Colleen Beyer steals the show, taking all the best one-liners and keeping the crowd laughing with her utter obstinance.
Laura Miller/Diane M. Smith’s set makes us feel that we have left the theatre and are sitting behind the mirrors at the small town beauty salon. Full of bright hot pinks and aquas (as sassy as the women inside), the set also has all the necessities of a salon – the shampoo sink, the hair dryers, the mani station, and the chairs where the women get cut and styled. There’s even a couch and coffee table, encouraging clients to stay and chat. No detail has been overlooked — even down to the mirror image ‘Truvy’s Salon’ sign in the window — and the result is a set where women are encouraged to gather and gossip. Props like a Christmas tree help the audience determine when the act takes place; Sharon Byrd also sets the scene by outfitting the women with Christmas sweaters, and in M’Lynn’s case, some handmade red poinsettia earrings (made by Annelle on a craft kick).
Since the play is set in the 1980s, some awesome ’80s music plays between scenes and at different points in the play. And in my view, a play can only be enhanced when Paula Abdul or Cyndi Lauper is playing in the background. There’s also a radio in the salon tuned to Clairee’s radio station, WPPP. The announcer is the perfect touch — advertising festivals in Chinquapin Parish and playing some of Shelby’s favorite tunes.
“Steel Magnolias” invites us into the lives of six extraordinary women who are “as delicate as magnolias but as tough as steel.” I’m so glad I was able to spend an afternoon enjoying the gossip, the friendship, the unconditional support, and the Southern charm.
Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes with one intermission.
“Steel Magnolias” is only playing one more weekend, November 5 and 6, 2016. Click here for tickets.