"Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.”
Immortal words spoken by the character Truvy: beauty salon owner and fount of one-liner wisdom. If this is your favorite emotion as well, then you will certainly enjoy North Carolina Theatre’s production of "Steel Magnolias," which opened this past Friday.
Just in case you don’t know the story, or need a little refresher, here’s the gist of it: These six women live in the small, fictional, northwest Louisiana town of Chinquapin. Truvy, played by Jenn Colella, runs a beauty salon that is attached to her house, which is the setting for the entire play. She hires a young woman, Annelle, played by Madeline Chloe Taylor. Annelle is new in town, and therefore, tantalizing fodder for town gossip.
We begin as mother-of-the-bride M’Lynn, played by Broadway veteran and Tony Award-winning actress Beth Leavel, and her bubbly, headstrong daughter Shelby come into Truvy’s salon to get ready for the wedding that day. Bride Shelby, played by Anne Horak, gushes on about the day’s events, but her vulnerability is soon revealed when symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes bring the celebrating to a halt. She quickly recovers, but this foreshadows later tragedy.
We also meet the comic relief in these early scenes. Clairee, played by Darrie Lawrence, oozes the grace, charm, sass and quick wit of a Southern lady. Ouiser, played by Diane J. Findlay, is the opposite. Well, she has the sass, just a different flavor of it. The love/hate relationship between these two characters provides fuel for the zingiest zingers in the show.
The play uses the challenges in each woman’s life to reveal the deeply devoted relationships between them, pointedly realized in M’Lynn’s climactic breakdown. Leavel knocks this scene out of the park, taking you to that dreadful low with her, to be jerked back up by Clairee’s shenanigans.
As a native of North Louisiana, this story has always held a particular fascination for me due to familiarity. The set in this production is spot on, looking just like one or more small Louisiana beauty salon’s I’ve actually seen. My only complaint is that some of the accents were a bit off for North Louisiana, something nobody else noticed, I’m sure. There is always a tendency to do all Southern accents as very slow and drawly, like you’d hear in Savannah. You know, like Olympia Dukakis in the movie version of Steel Magnolias. Specifically, I didn’t like the way they kept saying “Monroe.” This is an actual small city in northeast Louisiana, very near my hometown. Other than that picky little detail that only I noticed, you will enjoy every moment of this production. You might even feel compelled to say some of the familiar lines right along with the cast.
You can see this production now through April 29 at the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theatre in the Progress Energy Center for Performing Arts. For tickets, go to North Carolina Theatre’s website or call the box office at 919-831-6941, extension 6944.