It may be a fictional world, but I want to go live in the town that has Truvy’s hair salon, at least for a little while. It may be an idealized world of small-town camaraderie and women’s friendships, but for two hours, “Steel Magnolias” offered solace and joy in the small pleasures of everyday life. And it may be that we all just need some steel magnolias in our lives to support us, encourage us, and give us a dose of reality. This excellent production by the Port Tobacco Players provides that for us.
This is a cast that delivers….this show belongs firmly to the ladies and they do an excellent job.
And evidently, pretty much the entire audience agreed—during the scene change from Act 3 to Act 4, “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond was playing (the play IS set in 1987 or so) and the audience spontaneously started singing the chorus, and then just carried on with the rest of the verses. For some reason the bom-bom-boms had everyone laughing. (It was amazing how the words of a song one hasn’t heard in years can come back to one.) It was also just a few moments of unexpected audience participation fun.
The entire show carried that spontaneous aura of escaping to a calmer, gentler place; yes, real life may eventually intrude, but friends will rally, the wheel of life will turn, and there will be new joys. It’s a very comforting play. Plus, your friends will be very good with a quick quip and no matter their foibles, all is forgiven—you just wait out whatever little craziness takes over for a bit and welcome them back to the sands of reason.
“Steel Magnolias” follows a group of Southern friends over the period of a couple of years, beginning with the wedding day of M’lynn’s daughter, Shelby. From the wedding day the play fast-forwards to Christmas, and Shelby’s announcement that she is pregnant; this is not terrific news as she has Type 1 diabetes and has been strongly cautioned against putting her body through childbirth. From there, the story takes on added urgency as the ladies rally to support their friends and walk together through the inevitable sorrows and joys. Through husbands and children, death, births, dating, new interests, new careers, ups and downs, they form a bulkhead of protection to share the burdens and spread the laughter.
This is a cast that delivers the sometimes trite and/or saccharine sweetness of the dialogue and gives it welcome freshness and tartness. They excel in the sarcastic riposte and off-kilter observation. And even when gossiping about other people in town or each other, there is a gentle forthrightness in the observations and a positive spin. These ladies looked for any silver lining, while throwing salt over their shoulders just in case.
The able cast is anchored by Amy Wathen Cooksey as Truvy Jones; she provides the space, the coffee and the hairspray that will last through a hurricane that helps keep the ladies going. The cast is rounded out by JaNeene Autumn Sanders as Annelle Dupuy-Desoto; Kathy Mead as Clairee Belcher; Brenna Prestidge as Shelby Eatenton; Suzanne Donohue as M’lynn Eatenton; and Sheila Hyman as a very funny Ouiser Boudreaux. The scene where Clairee offers Ouiser up to be slapped by M’lynn is laugh-out-loud funny, as these two Southern ladies screech at each other and inadvertently provide the momentary lightening of the load M’lynn needs. The radio DJ is voiced by Anthony Dieguez, but this show belongs firmly to the ladies, and they do an excellent job.
The set design is lovingly detailed by Richard Gilpin and Terry Smith and the props also by Terry Smith and assistants Angela Mclane-Beyrle, Carson Painter, and Iris Smith, are spot on. The costumes by Jamie Howells Nelson & Amy Wathen Cooksey will take you right back to the 1980s. Director Joselle Gilpin’s pacing lends authority to the quickness of the dialogue; these ladies may have lovely deep South accents, but they don’t miss a beat.
Running Time: Approximately two hours with one 15-minute intermission.
Show Information: ‘Steel Magnolias’ runs from September 21 – October 7, 2018, at the Port Tobacco Players, La Plata, MD. For more information, please click here.