Los Alamos Little Theatre is presenting the ever-popular “Steel Magnolias” this week and next. Robert Harling’s “Steel Magnolias” has remained consistently popular since making its stage debut in 1987 and has been presented in two successful film adaptations. This is my sixth “Steel Magnolias” and I can honestly say it is one of my favorites.
The core of the play is female relationships—both friendships and motherhood. The witty, wise-cracking women meet weekly at Truvy’s Beauty Shop in Chinquapin, Louisiana, more to talk to each other than to get their look upgraded, though that happens too.
The power of sisterhood propels four middle-aged friends through lives filled with laughter and tears. When disaster strikes, they keep each other going. These blossoms are never crushed, no matter what happens, and they sustain the two younger characters, surrogate and actual daughters, as well. There are no men on stage in this play. The spotlight is front and center on the relationships between women.
This material could easily turn maudlin, and it is a tribute to the LALT cast and director Laurie Tomlinson that it never does. The ensemble work of the six woman cast is outstanding.
The entire play takes place inside the beauty salon over the course of about three years. Through subtle changes in décor, costume and especially hairstyle(!), the production manages to convey the passage of time. The set design by Paul Lewis is a work of art! I consistently felt I was gazing through a window into a real beauty shop as I eavesdropped on the lives of these six women. The technical staff of this production is uniformly excellent, from lighting and sound through costumes and hair.
I was impressed by all six of the actresses. M’Lynn (Trisha Werner) and her daughter Shelby (Jacinta Lestone) are the emotional center of the play and strong performances by these two are what makes everything work. Lestone is great as the strong and stubborn Southern belle, Shelby. Her signature color is pink, but this carnation never wilts under pressure. Werner has the extremely difficult task of making the reserved character of M’Lynn resonate with emotion. Her excellent portrayal of a woman used to having control of her life who suddenly finds herself without it is truly outstanding.
I loved Andi Bishofberger as the grumpy but warm-hearted Ouiser. Her mobile facial expressions capture the character perfectly. Carolyn Conner breathes life into the role of Clairee, a character who could be overshadowed by flashier personalities. Conner brings her center stage. I also loved Holly Robinson’s quirky Annelle, another character who could get lost in the weeds without a really talented actress in the role.
Dianne Williams Wilburn’s Truvy may be flamboyant, but she’s never over the top. It’s a tribute to Wilburn that Truvy is never a caricature. Truvy’s goal is to bring beauty and laughter into the lives of her friends, and Wilburn brings out her strengths.
Don’t stay home because:
- You’ve seen ‘Magnolias’ before;
- You are a guy; or
- This kind of thing isn’t your usual cup of tea.
This excellent production deserves your attention and will surprise you with its emotional depth.
“Steel Magnolias” will run Fridays and Saturdays 7:30 p.m. May 13, 14, 20, 21 and 2 p.m. Sunday May15. Tickets are $14 for adults and $12 for students and seniors and may be purchased at the door or in advance at CB FOX or from Brown Paper Tickets.