by Terrance V. Mc Arthur
Robert Harling was a struggling writer whose sister died of diabetic complications. His loss turned into the script of Steel Magnolias, an intense, yet joyful, exploration of a Southern community through the women frequenting Truvy’s Beauty Parlor in Chinquapin, Louisiana, in the eighties. Hollywood turned that play into a movie starring Sally Field, Julia Roberts, Dolly Parton, Tom Skerritt, and Shirley MacLaine. Lifetime recently showed a version that was African-American-based, featuring Queen Latifah, Phylicia Rashad, Jill Scott, and Alfre Woodard. Now, the E&e Performing Arts Center in Kingsburg has brought Steel Magnolias to flower on its compact stage, and its aroma is sweet.
Magnolias is a difficult play for me to watch, because my first wife died of diabetic renal failure at the age of 31 after giving birth, having dialysis, and a kidney transplant that didn’t work out, but it’s still a great play, filled with laughter and tears, with a message of the resiliency of the human spirit.
If you’ve seen the movie, the play will seem strange, because there are no men in the cast—they were added for the film adaptation. The men are talked about, but not seen. Of course, with female characters like these, who needs the men?
Anna Pendergrass is wondrous as M’Lynn, a loving mom who won’t let go because she knows she shouldn’t. Her calm demeanor carries through almost everything life throws at her, and her explosion of frustration expresses all the love and need of a mother.
Newcomer Stephanie Dorrough portrays Ouiser, an eccentric who isn’t crazy; she’s just been in a very bad mood for 40 years.” Her grumpy one-liners sparkle as she bulldozes her way over, around, and through the other characters.
Michelle Pauls, as Shelby, M’Lynn’s daughter, is in her third production of Magnolias. Her comfort in a role that veers from the nervous excitement of her wedding day to young motherhood and a strength that won’t give up while facing major trials shows professionalism.
Truvy, a beautician who may talk more than she works, is played by Leigh-Ann Olsen with charm and flash. Janet Wilson is Clairee, a widow who chooses to put her money into living life by her own rules. Maegan Riojas is Annelle, the new helper in the parlor, who blossoms in many ways.
It’s funny, sad, mildly outrageous, and a great way to spend an early evening. Bring Kleenex–or your favorite brand of facial tissue.
Steel Magnolias continues at the Draper Street Theatre in Kingsburg, 1440 Draper St. (down the alley on the southeast side of the street), 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 12 and Saturday, Oct. 13; and 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 14. Tickets are $12, $10 for students and seniors. Group rate are available. For more information, call (559) 897-1111.