by Shirley Lorraine
Steel Magnolias capture the South at Elite
Robert Harling’s comedy-drama, Steel Magnolias, is now on stage through October 1 at the Elite Theater in Channel Islands. The highly popular play, written by Harling in just ten days, reflects how women bond through many of life’s challenges, providing support, guidance and a touch of sarcasm as their friendships bloom. Taking place in a small town in Louisiana, the setting could be literally anywhere. The Southern touch adds considerably however to the humor and the depth of the characters.
The general story is a personal one for the author, built around the character Shelby, who was modeled after his sister, Susan. Shelby dies of complications from diabetes, as did Susan. It provided catharsis for the author and a treat for audiences everywhere.
The action happens in around 1980 at Truvy’s Hair Salon in a small town where a group of regulars gather on Saturday mornings for styling, gossip and laughter.
The ensemble is solid throughout and meld together nicely. Kim Prendergast plays salon owner Truvy Jones. She is joined by the former town mayors’ widow Clairee Belcher (Peggy Steketee), young bride-to-be Shelby (Olivia Heulitt), who loves everything pink, Shelby’s harried but caring mother M’Lynn (Christine Burke) and curmudgeon-like Ouiser (pronounced Weezer) portrayed by Angela DeCicco. On this morning, Truvy has just hired Annelle (Catie Sayeg) a young, possibly married, newcomer to town as her insecure apprentice.
The audience is introduced to each of the delightful ladies as they enter and banter before their respective appointments. It is Shelby’s wedding day, so of course her hair must be done first. Truvy expertly curls and styles her hair while Annelle washes M’Lynn’s. The others have coffee, chide each other in friendly fashion and gossip just a little as each gets their Saturday “do’s” done.
All the characters are engaging, each one’s personality blossoming more fully as we get to know them. We learn a bit about their backgrounds along the way. We get caught up as one of the insiders in their petty yet friendly, squabbles and their obvious love, concern and encouragement for each other. When one needs support, all the rest pitch in.
The six ladies make a tight ensemble and each is given the spotlight here and there. The most tightly wound character is mom M’Lynn, who understandably unravels towards the end and is comforted by the others.
Bathed in lavender, the salon is comfortable and inviting. The requisite magazines are on the coffee table, hair dryers are at the ready and a plethora of warmth pervades the scenes. The setting invites the audience to become part of the Saturday clique. Anyone who has ever been to a hair salon will enjoy the posters featuring big hair of the 80’s.
At one point when the salon telephone rings, Ouiser states “it’s probably my mind trying to locate my body”. How many times have we all felt like that? The script offers frequent insights familiar to many, adding to the comfortable intimate ambiance. Go to The Salon and enjoy.
Steel Magnolias runs through October 1. Friday & Saturday eves 8 PM, Sunday matinees 2 p.m.
General admission $20. Seniors/Students/Military $17. Reservations are encouraged.
Elite Theatre Company, 2731 Victoria Avenue, Fisherman’s Wharf, Channel Islands Harbor 483-5118 firstname.lastname@example.org.