Review by Michele E. Hawkins.
Everyone’s friend and confidante, Truvy Jones (Helen McFarlane), owns and runs a beauty salon in Chinquapin, Louisiana, where the neighbourhood ladies have regular appointments during which they exchange the ups and downs of their lives. Helping Truvy in the salon is Annelle Dupuy-Desoto (Katy Larkin), a shy, anxious young woman who arrives in town with a troubled past.
It’s Saturday, and all the buzz is about Shelby Eatenton’s (Jess Waterhouse) wedding to her fiancé Jackson, to be held that very afternoon. Naturally, given the importance of the event, all the ladies have their hair done following the bride-to-be and her mother, M’Lynne Eatenton (Victoria Tyrell Dixon), a successful career woman. Amongst those waiting are widow and former first lady of Chinquapin, Clairee Belcher (Janie Lawson), and relentlessly cranky Ouiser Boudreaux (Lainie Hart).
Throughout the course of the morning, concerns about Shelby’s future with Jackson, and perhaps about Jackson himself, come to light, and a diabetic hypoglycaemic episode lays bare an uncomfortable truth about Shelby.
Over the following three years, the women meet regularly at the salon, where they share life’s highlights and travails. Shelby, who has moved away from the town with her husband, comes to the salon whenever she’s in town on a visit. And it is through the sharing between the women in the salon that Shelby’s life story unfolds.
In this production, Anne Somes has brilliantly directed a very talented cast who, with palpable warmth, camaraderie, and a range of nuances, bring these very individual characters to realistic life. We see here a group of women who are there for one another through every joy and sorrow and so win the audience. Even the curmudgeonly Ouiser Boudreaux somehow weaves herself into kindly hearts.
The salon’s design is imaginative and detailed, allowing the actors to move naturally about the stage, with the action moving seamlessly to the front or back. The warm lighting design is perfect for the overall feel of a beauty salon of the 1980s, which, if anything, was an exclusively female place for the celebration of all things pretty and feminine, and the lighting consistently matched the moods in the salon. Costumes were a delight, again reflecting the women’s varied natures, and the sound track was a perfect fit in both era and importance at the time.
Absorbing throughout, Free Rain’s production of Steel Magnolias is a rewarding, heartwarming window into the extraordinary lives of six women familiar to us all.
(Photographer: Janelle McMenamin.)
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