Audience Review: STEEL MAGNOLIAS at Spotlight Theater

by Patricia Bradford

Since it debuted nearly 30 years ago STEEL MAGNOLIAS has been an audience favorite. Director Jess Stinson invites you all to gather at Truvy’s beauty shop in Chinquapin Louisiana to reacquaint yourselves with the six featured ladies, in their own ways, each fragile, yet tough as tempered steel. The beauty shop has a comfortable, familiar feel to it and all action takes place there. This is a no men’s land, where the women can relax, gossip, offer and receive support, and feel beautiful.

New in town and desperate for a job, Annelle (Jennifer Ursone) is hoping to wow Truvy (Cheryl Stark) with her cosmetology skills. Ursone captures Annelle’s youth and insecurities. She has a lot to learn about herself and her place in the world, and Truvy, an excellent judge of character, recognizes her good heart. As the proprietress of the gathering place, Truvy is at the center of everything and Stark’s portrayal is warm and welcoming. Annelle has chanced upon a big day for the beauty shop ladies as bride Shelby (Julia Terruso) and her mother M’Lynn (Shanna Massad) are expected at any moment. Shelby is the town’s pretty girl but Terruso is no brat or princess. She infuses Shelby with loving vitality that makes it easy to see how her happiness is their happiness. Massad and Terruso truly look like mother and daughter and Massad’s every gesture shows her pride, love and concern for her cherished child.

Recently widowed mayor’s wife Clairee (Bonnie Grant) is at loose ends without her husband, but she is ever the gracious politician, ceding her place at Truvy’s to Shelby. Grant is wise and wistful as she recalls her own wedding day and wishes the best for the new bride. Lest the atmosphere in the beauty parlor get too sweet, Ouiser (Laurie Jacobs) arrives. Ouiser is the town character, sarcastic, opinionated and determined to present herself as tough and unsentimental. Jacobs revels in Ouiser’s eccentricities, and allows glimpses of the kind woman underneath the surly shell. Vigilant as all the women are, they are caught off guard when Shelby suddenly slumps forward in her chair.

From this point on, Shelby’s diabetes is always the purple gorilla in the room. Whatever else is happening, the spectre of her medical problem is always present. Author Robert Harling was inspired to write this story after seeing his sister struggle with the complications of Type I diabetes. As life goes on, Annelle and Clairee evolve into new phases of their lives and Ouiser is reunited with an old friend. Empty nest syndrome weighs on Truvy and M’Lynn in different ways. Shelby has big plans for herself and her new family despite the toll that diabetes exacts from her. Through the best news and the worst, these women are indeed STEEL MAGNOLIAS, strong and beautiful and always there to share their strength with one another.

STEEL MAGNOLIAS runs through September 30th, and yes, men are allowed, even encouraged to attend. The story resonates with women, but the person sitting in front of me dabbing at damp eyes was a male. There’s room for everyone at Truvy’s salon.

Spotlight Theater at United Methodist Church on Park Avenue in Swarthmore

Spotlight Theater

Review submitted by:
Anne Lannak

Author’s Bio:

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