4.5 out of 5 stars
I would be a liar if I said I’m not a sucker for a closing night theater performance, and after attending the final Theatreworks production of “Steel Magnolias,” I was blown away at the masterful directing and performances.
Those who are familiar with both the 1989 film and the original play that debuted in 1987 will know that the story ends on a bittersweet note, but the Theatreworks production beautifully balanced the tragedy of the plot with hilarity.
The play is set in Truvy Jones’ (Cheerish Martin) carport-turned-salon. After opening on Shelby’s (Carla Brown), wedding day we are introduced first to Truvy’s new employee, the hilarious Annelle (Desirée Meyers), followed by Clairee (Mary Louise Lee), Shelby and her mother M’Lynn (Marisa Hébert) and lastly the grumpy Ouiser (Latifah Johnson).
The group prepares for Shelby’s wedding, and encounters Shelby’s health-scare on stage as a diabetic. The next scene takes place several months later at Christmas, post-wedding, where Shelby tells her mother that she wants to have a baby despite all of the health risks it involves. M’Lynn begrudgingly accepts her daughter’s choice, and following Shelby’s pregnancy, ends up becoming her daughter’s kidney donor.
Director Lynne Hastings deserves much praise for her skilled hand at guiding the stellar performances, as well as the all-female cast. This group of women were wonderfully enmeshed, complementing each other’s gifts. My sole complaint about the closing night show was that the audience was laughing so loud at times it was almost difficult to hear the actors.
Meyers’ performance stood out as her delivery never failed to get the audience rolling in hysterics. Her comedic timing was stunning and always lightened the heavier moments.
Brown’s portrayal of Shelby was particularly heartfelt and harmonized with Hébert’s M’Lynn perfectly. Hébert performed as a character displaying an incredible range of emotion, adeptly feeling the right moment to shift from grief to sarcasm, making the whole audience laugh through their tears.
“Steel Magnolias” tells the story of how intimately women, particularly Black women, bond over the care of their hair. In the salon these women were able to reveal parts of their lives usually kept to themselves, bonding over their grief and their triumphs all while performing the self-care ritual of maintaining their hair.
The closing of “Steel Magnolias” showcased the talents of all involved, giving the audience an emotional release that only live theater can give. The closing night was a warm send off, and a reminder of how important feminine relationships are.
Steel Magnolias cast. Photo from communique.uccs.edu.