By Lynn Geyer
“Steel Magnolias,” by Robert Harling, is based on a true episode in his family’s life. Director Elliot Weiner has caught the message and the moment superbly and offers this excellent retelling of Harling’s story to the audience at Tacoma Little Theatre.
As most know, the magnolia blossom is synonymous with the flower of southern womanhood. It is a giant, showy white flower with a hardy stem and great shiny green leaves. Yet, touch it and it turns brown – withers away and crumbles before its time.
Steel magnolias are made of sterner stuff – like the iron fist in the velvet glove. Harding has given the audience a glimpse in a year of the hardier variety of magnolia – the true look at the southern woman.
Although the play starts out like an over-aged sorority pajama party, it isn’t long before the audience is caught up in the lives of Shelby and her mother M’Lynn – that one-ups-man-ship they share with distain and pleasure – as well as the subplots which surround them and all is played out in Truvy’s beauty parlor with her hoard of regulars.
Blake R. York has turned the TLT stage into Truvy’s, right down to the hair-wash station and the old-fashion hair dryer; the color choices are typical of the era.
Michele Graves does the costume design from almost sleazy to staid and true southern lady attire.
This is an hilarious play with poignant moments of pathos ending in an upbeat sort of way.
Weiner has chosen quite an appropriate cast and directed them with aplomb.
Stephanie Leeper is Truvy Jones, our beauty shop owner/operator. Leeper plays her perfectly – from her over-done hairstyle to her almost painted on smile; a “Hi, y’all, well met” sort of person.
Jessica Robins is Annelle DuPuy-DeSoto, the newly hired wandering newcomer to the community who is not certain if she’s married or not. Robins is more than nervous when showing her cosmetology talent on Truvy’s hair. However, her character grows during the nine months or so in the lives of the belles – after she’s joined the church, she becomes a well defined born-again woman of faith.
Dana Galagan is just wonderful as Clairee Belcher. Galagan underplays her laugh lines so perfectly with a wide-eyed stare, that it’s believable that she doesn’t really get the joke; just a plain nice job.
Carol Richmond is Ouiser Boudreaux the other “queen of the beauty shop.” She and Clairee love to agree to disagree about most everything. Richmond is excellent as the sometimes curt, sometimes laughable, but always perfect as the granddame of the salon.
Gretchen Boyt is Shelby Eatenton-Latcherie, our ill-fated heroine. We meet Shelby on her wedding day and immediately are aware of the loving, friendly battle she has with her mother. Boyt is exuberant in her part. Her ability to ignore her mother’s wishes without her parent realizing it is great. Boyt moves Shelby from the best part of her life to the last part with an up-lifted smile on her face and joy in her heart.
Kathi Aleman is M’Lynn Eatenton; the unbending mother who bends much like the magnolia does in a high wind – unwillingly but with unquestioning love for her daughter. Aleman proves her acting prowess when delivering a gutsy monologue about Shelby which ends with tears and laughter of love.
“Steel Magnolias” continues at the Tacoma Little Theatre at 210 North I Street through November 3 at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday with 2 p.m. matinees Sunday.
For more information or to make reservations, call the theatre at (253) 272-2281 or go online to www.tacomalittletheatre.com.
“Steel Magnolias” is a true slice of life with moments of tragedy – with sobs and tears – but through it all, we learn that the best answer to tragedy is to be able to laugh – even at ourselves.
Only one weekend left to see this fine pierce of theatre – be sure not to miss it.