Steel Magnolias Reviewed

Anybody who is anybody goes to Truvy’s beauty salon to get her hair done. Don’t expect any miracles, though. Truvy herself says, I am a beautician not a magician, with a plaque on the wall. What you can expect is good chatter, a caring ear, and good hair. The same can be said for Steel Magnolias, Robert Harling’s play about six southern “belles” with backbones as tough as nails and the will of steel playing now at The Lyceum Theater.

Steel Magnolias was first presented in New York in 1987 where it played off-Broadway for 1,126 performances and was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award. It didn’t gain universal notoriety until it was made into a film starring Julia Roberts, Sally Field, and Dolly Parton among others. Roberts earned her first Oscar nomination for the film.

The play takes place entirely in Truvy’s (Delta Burke) homey beauty salon in Chinquapin, Louisiana. Truvy’s new assistant is Annelle (Lily Rabe) who is not sure if she is married or not, but will not let her problems get in the way of “doing good hair.” The four women who visit the salon are M’Lynn (Christine Ebersole), the local social worker who adores and will do anything for her daughter Shelby (Rebecca Gayheart) who is getting married and whose wardrobe consists only of the color pink. Clairee, the eccentric millionaire recent widow who spits out one-liners with the best of them, and the curmudgeon, Ouiser who loves her dog, Rhett, more than any human and admits that she’s not crazy, but has just “been in a bad mood for forty years.” In the four scenes play these women experience birth, life, death all in the arms and company of each other.

Good fun, good chatter, and good hair

While this play does end in tragedy, the majority of it is a comedy. The author based the play on memories of growing up with the women in his life, and I have no way of knowing whether all over the south scenes like these took place, but the one thing I do know is that a woman cannot be this funny all the time. The dialogue is essentially a series of one-liners, funny ones at that. Since the film was very closely based on the play, a lot of the dialogue is familiar to me, so it lost a little of its punch when hearing it during the play. What is amazing about the script is that it was written by a man; because of the way it connects to the female mind and emotions. While it is very clichéd, it is its charm that keeps it going; the charm of a small town and the gossipy colorful women who live there make it very likeable.

Lily Rabe and Frances Sternhagen

Each character is very different, and for the most part the all-star cast does a fine job of making each their own. Marsha Mason is gleeful as the fuddy-duddy Ouiser and Frances Sternhagen has brilliant comedic timing that adds to the already great role of Clairee. Rebecca Gayheart does a fine job in one of the straight man roles in the play. She brought perkiness and a sense of wisdom to a character that often makes foolish and rash decisions. Delta Burke put a new spin on Truvy; slightly different and more subdued than I would have expected, and Lily Rabe is very convincing in the many moods and changes Annelle goes through. She is certainly one to watch in the future. Christine Ebersole’s portrayal of M’Lynn came off as cold and harsh to me, so her breakdown at the end came out of left field. No doubt she loved her daughter, but she came off as a little un-caring.

Anna Louizos’s set is quaint and charming. It consists of the roof of a house that might exist in a nice southern town and Truvy’s salon under it. The salon is filled with overflowing hair dryers, rollers, hairspray, and is decorated with tacky Christmas ornaments during the holiday. David Murin’s costume designs are lovely and individual for each character‘s personality. Ouiser is always outfitted in sweat suits, and Shelby wears every different shade of pink.

Overall, Steel Magnolias is a very funny, sweet, slightly clichéd, look at the life of six southern women who were raised to be delicate flowers, but when needed they can handle anything with nerves of steel, grace, and of course well kept, beautiful hair.

Note the date on this article may be incorrect due to importing it from our old system.