Written by Patrick Chavis
Steel Magnolias sounds like the perfect name for either a Guns N’ Roses cover band or a post punk, feminist rock group. It turns out to be neither (at least I don’t think so). Steel Magnolias is mostly known for the 1989 film with the all-star cast: Shirley MacLaine, Olympia Dukakis, Sally Field, and more. I could continue, because this movie was pumped with as much talent as Ocean’s 11. Before it hit the big screen, Steel Magnolias was a successful play because of its unique take on women, southern life, and death. Newport Theatre Arts Center’s talented cast gracefully pulls you into their southern Louisiana world. There’s no acting here, just six very unique women baring their souls on stage. On the surface it’s a show about a sad event that changes the lives of these women in a beauty parlor. Once you go deeper, the show really is about a bunch of Chatty Cathys that love to bicker about anything and everything, and having the strength to do it.
The play is set in a shop in Chinquapin, Louisiana, and centers around a lot of different conversations that occur while the women are getting their hair done. The dialogue in this play is funny but not over the top. It’s the kind of everyday humor that kind of pops out at you, and you can’t help but chuckle a little bit. The things that really make this show enjoyable are the relationships between the characters and how each one of them interacts with one another. This play is truly an actor’s piece. Just fifteen minutes in you already have a good idea where the plot is going, and you know it’s going to be sad. Still that inevitable sadness takes a backseat to the often funny and whimsical conversations and gossip the characters have.
David Motroni’s direction in this play is fantastic. The conversations happen so organically, and the set was so spot on. It was almost impossible to not become entranced in their gossip.
Leading us into their world we meet Truvy (Michelle M. Pedersen), the owner of the beauty shop. Michelle’s Truvy was full of life and created a great foil for all of the other characters to play off of. No one stands out because Yara Wilde (Shelby), Megan Cherry(M’Lynn), Andrea LaVeia (Clairee), Michelle Skinner (Annelle) and Kip Hogan (Ouiser) all equally bring a unique spark to their characters. When I break down the characters, especially Truvy’s character, they don’t evolve much during the story, if at all. It would be easy to say this was a misstep, but I don’t think so. I believe the writer is saying something quite profound about these women. Though they experience quite a few serious issues-a loved one experiencing Type 1 Diabetes for instance- the gossip is not unlike a shield of armor around the characters that helps them to cope with an unfair world. This thought rings the most true in the scene where M’Lynn loses all hope after hearing incredibly devastating news. She yells out, “Why and that she needs to punch something, so it can feel how I’m feeling.” One of the friends, Clairee, quickly recommends Ouiser serve as a human punching bag for M’Lynn to release her aggressions, and the tense, sad moment becomes funny again in an instant.
The play mimics life and sort of rolls over the sad parts of life with comedy. This show doesn’t leave you with a new message or lesson, but there are real moments that will touch your heart enough to make you laugh, and that’s enough.
January 22, 2016 to February 21, 2016