Review | Steel Magnolias: a warm respite from the winter cold

Guthrie Theater, through Dec 15

Melissa Maxwell, Nicole King, Austene Van and Amy Van Nostrand in STEEL MAGNOLIAS. Photo by Dan Norman.

When you settle into your seat in the McGuire Proscenium to watch Robert Harling‘s Steel Magnolias, playing at the Guthrie through December 15th, you’ll feel instantly soothed by the pre-show announcements, read in a fitting southern drawl. Set in a beauty salon Chinquapin, Louisiana in the 1980s, the all-women cast and women-led creative-team offer up this production of Steel Magnolias with warmth, reverence, and heart.

Director Lisa Rothe didn’t grow up in the South. However, the show has always resonated with her due to the way it framed Truvy’s Hair Salon (the main setting of the play) as a safe place for women from all walks of life to “take care of themselves and share their lives.”

The salon is more than just a place to get a haircut; it’s a sanctuary. Steel Magnolias is very much a product of its time right down to the electronic synth beats blasting from the radio. But the idea that women deserve and need a place to be free to express themselves, to share their lives, and be held up and supported, is timeless and it’s this theme that anchors this play.

Both Truvy, played by Austene Van and Annelle, Truvy’s new in town assistant, played by Adelin Phelps, wash and style the hair of the rest of the cast. The attention to detail, the simple acts of physically styling hair in real time, make it seem as though the audience just walked into Truvy’s themselves and are waiting patiently for their turn while the rest of the clientele gossip about their day-to-day.

Truvy’s regulars consist of Clairee, Shelby, M’Lynn, and Ouiser. Clairee is a wealthy widower with style, class, and a sharp wit played by Amy Von Nostrand. Shelby, played by Nicole King, is the determined, fashion-forward, and free-spirited daughter of M’Lynn, played by Melissa Maxwell. M’Lynn only wants the best for her daughter in the way that all well-meaning, but sometimes overbearing mothers can be. King, as Shelby, lights up the stage with every scene. While you’re rooting for Shelby the whole way through, M’Lynn’s concern for her daughter’s wellbeing and her own emotional journey is fully apparent to the audience.

As Shelby and M’Lynn go back and forth about hairstyles, clothes, colors, and life in general, Clairee, Annelle, Truvy, and Ouiser, played by Sally Wingert, are at the ready with a quick interjection, a prayer, a bitter retort, or a funny anecdote. As always, the women put friends, faith, and family first, offering support and love through the ups and downs.

This is the first time that Steel Magnolias has graced the Guthrie stage, and 2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the film starring Sally Field and Julia Roberts. Audience members will laugh, worry and cry right along with the cast as each player exhibits a rare realness that cuts right through the hairspray, big hair, and loud 80s fashions.

 

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