Reviewed by Elaine Plybon, Associate Critic for John Garcia’s THE COLUMN
According to Truvy Jones, owner of the beauty salon that is host to all of the action in Steel Magnolias, laughter through tears is her favorite emotion. Granbury Theatre Company delivers ample amounts of laughter, tears, and everything in between in its production of the popular play.
Playwright, Robert Harling, wrote the play after the death of his sister, modeling the character, Shelby Eatenton-Latcherie, after her. The play strongly captures the range of emotions experienced in the day to day routines of life and the intensity of those emotions when tragedy strikes. The script is expertly written and provides an opportunity for an experienced cast to welcome their audience into the lives of their characters with ease. Steel Magnolias peers into the lives of six women in Louisiana through brief moments shared in Truvy’s beauty salon over the course of two years.
Steel Magnolias has been a favorite on stage and screen since it first debuted Off-Broadway in 1987. It was adapted to film in 1989, starring Sally Fields in the role of M’Lynn, Julia Roberts as Shelby, and Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine, Daryl Hannah, and Olympia Dukakis in supporting roles. The challenge of a stage performance when many in the audience have seen the screen version can be difficult to overcome. This cast of six met the challenge.
One of the intricacies of the script itself is that the women introduce additional characters through their lively dialogue. The audience becomes familiar with Drum, husband to M’Lynn, Owen, Ouiser’s beau, Sammy, boyfriend then husband of Annelle, and the couch slug who is married to Truvy – all through the meticulous storytelling of Harling’s pen.
Granbury Theatre Company is housed inside of a beautifully renovated opera house that has been in existence since the 1800s. It is located on the square of a traditional small town that enjoys visitors year-round. To deliver quality theater in an atmosphere of guests demanding entertainment can be a daunting task. The production of this play, then demands expert attention to detail. Its audiences will not be disappointed.
The set, which is static and encompasses a proscenium stage, was well-designed by Phil Groeschel and Kerri Pavelick. It had a flow that made it easy for the actors to perform, yet appear to be in natural conversation spaces. The interior of Truvy’s salon included everything one would expect to see – a shampoo station, hair drying station, products arranged on shelves, and decorative touches that suited Truvy’s personality. Every wall had clearly been well-planned. The set pieces complemented each other and the action surrounding them. Every prop was well-chosen by Gaylene Carpenter to suit the 80s time period.
Costumer, Missy Brooks, chose outfits that were exceptionally appropriate to both time period and the personalities of the characters. The attention to minor touches helped me to almost forget to notice the costumes – everything was so perfect. My favorite example of this was a shiny, gold pair of shoes worn by Clairee in the first act making a comeback on Truvy’s feet in the second act. This detail could have been ignored and nobody would have noticed, but the fact that it was not ignored was definitely an enhancement to the experience.
Lighting designer, Derek Shepherd, chose to bathe the stage in light as was befitting the interior of a beauty salon. During a power outage, the reduction in light was exactly as needed to suggest a darkened salon, but still allowed the audience to see the actors clearly.
Having a cast of only six people can magnify the performance of each, individually. As I watched the performances, I found myself watching the faces of the women who were not speaking because of the realism of their emotions as they listened to whoever was delivering lines. Three were exceptional in their ability to stay in character for every moment on stage.
Carmen Scott played Truvy Jones, the very vocal and fun-loving owner of the salon. Her performance was one of the strongest of the evening. Her delivery of emotion, whether it was a sly smile when suggesting mischief, bright disposition exemplifying Truvy’s joie de vive, or tearfully red eyes as M’Lynn poured her heart out, Scott’s performance was impressive. If ever a rendition of Steel Magnolias is made with one person in it, lively telling the story, Scott’s Truvy would be the perfect choice.
Pam Pendleton played the wealthy widow, Clairee Belcher. Her facial expressions and the way she carried herself across the stage aptly portrayed the character as written. Harling gave this character some of the best comic moments in the play, and Pendleton’s dry delivery was spot on and a delight to the audience.
The role of Ouiser Boudreaux, the cranky neighbor, was impeccably portrayed by Alicia Broadhurst. Her accurate depiction allowed the audience to understand the complexities of the character. With a complex disposition including grumpiness, softness, and strength, all at the same time, Broadhurst helped us to understand why some of her neighbors had a hard time putting up with her, but loved her all the same.
Terri Willson played the role of the mother, M’Lynn Eatenton. Her performance was accurate and adequate throughout the play. However, Willson knocked it out of the park with her delivery of the monologue in act four. I can’t imagine that there could have been a dry eye in the theater as Willson heartfully delivered each line with impeccable timing and grace. To be honest, as many times as I have seen this play, the performance of that monologue has to be outstanding in order to evoke emotion, and I was definitely wishing I had brought tissues to this one.
Marisa Duran had the difficult task of portraying the role of Shelby. As each stint on stage unfolded, Duran managed to look sicklier while delivering the most positive of lines. The subtlety of this portrayal demands an expertise, and Duran delivered.
The character of Annelle was played by Amanda Brooks. While Brooks delivered each line with great timing, her delivery seemed monotone throughout the play. Her performance never took advantage of the opportunities the script provides to expand the character and show the evolution of Annelle from quiet outcast to an integral part of the ladies’ group. Brooks’ Annelle seemed distant and more like an outsider eavesdropping on the others, rather than becoming an integral part of the life of the salon.
Overall, this production of Steel Magnolias is well done and worth seeing. It is a worthy addition to the entertainment and experience that the Granbury town square provides to its guests.