Sassy Southern Belles Settle in Coronado
Patch.com – Coronado
When you set foot into Truvy’s, you’re walking into a world of women – with all the love, support, sniping, griping, gossip and warm-hearted jocularity that entails.
The home-based hair salon is the center of the social universe for the females of Chinquapin Parish, Louisiana (a fictional suburb of Natchitoches, where the playwright grew up).
It’s 1986, a time when respectable women got a tease-and-blow every Saturday, like clockwork – and in the process, secrets were shared and life was bravely endured, as a group. These gutsy gals were the backbones of their families and the spine of Southern culture, tough-as-nails beauties Robert Harling dubbed “Steel Magnolias.”
The play, Harling’s first, was written in 1987 as a way to deal with his younger sister’s untimely death. Two years after the Off Broadway premiere, he’d written his first screenplay, and even appeared (as the preacher, a character that doesn’t exist in the stage play) in the highly successful, killer-cast film. He went on to write the screenplays for “The First Wives Club” and “The Evening Star,” sequel to “Terms of Endearment.”)
But “Steel Magnolias” remains the work he’s most famous for, a heartwarming comic drama that juxtaposes youth and age, health and illness, wives and their gun-totin’, couch-potato husbands; weddings and funerals; divorce, widowhood and second chances — and everything that happens in between.
The characters are sharply etched, and extremely well inhabited by a delightful cast at Lamb’s Players Theatre, under the sensitive direction of Robert Smyth.
Kerry Meads is energetic and amusing as good-natured, wisdom-spouting Truvy (“There’s no such thing as natural beauty,” “Time marches on, and ultimately, you realize it marches across your face”), who takes all her customers under her wing, from tentative, frightened new-girl Annelle (Season Marshall Duffy, nicely subdued), who becomes defiantly Born Again; sharp-tongued sports-fan Clairee (imperious Rosina Reynolds, who masters a very convincing mid-show hoarseness); grouchy but good-hearted Ouiser (Rhona Gold, aptly grumpy/funny); optimistic, pink-loving Shelby (sweetly wide-eyed Colleen Kollar Smith); and Shelby’s anxious, doting mother, M’Lynn (Deborah Gilmour Smyth, who has a magnificently realistic second-act breakdown).
Not all the laugh lines fall precisely, but some of them are admittedly dated. Still, the play remains true to Truvy’s dictum: “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.” (Have tissues on hand for Act II).
Mike Buckley’s detailed set has the salon built onto the outside of Truby’s frame house, a creative idea that provides indoor/outdoor potential, including a working hairdryer and green, leafy lattice-work out the door (props by Michael McKeon). Jeanne Reith’s costumes are a hoot, particularly the marvelously awful flowered jumpsuit for Annelle and an uproarious array of fussy Christmas sweaters. Sara Waldo, of Zina G Hair Salon, consulted on the wonderfully poofy do’s and wigs.
It’s been 20 years since Lamb’s presented “Steel Magnolias.,” and that was in their old National City location. The show is a perfect match for the company’s performance-driven sensibility, and a solid, if not risky, launch of their 40th season (a world premiere musical comes later in the year). In these tough times, longevity is certainly something to celebrate – as are women who pull up their big-girl panties and confront head-on whatever life flings their way.
“Steel Magnolias” continues through March 20 at Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado.
Performances are Tuesday-Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday-Saturday at 8pm, Saturday at 4pm and Sunday at 2pm
Tickets ($28-58) are available at 619-437-6000 or www.lambsplayers.org