Review of Steel Magnolias
By Robert Harling
Directed by Beulah Vega

For tickets & schedule:
6th Street Playhouse
Santa Rosa, CA
Tickets: $28-33, $23-28 Ages 62+, $20 Under 30

RUN: October 20 – November 5, 2017
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(October 20, 2017)

Steel Magnolias - 6th Street Playhouse

Truvy (Jennifer Peck) discusses Shelby’s (Ellen Rawley) dialysis treatments. Photo by Eric Chazankin.

On the surface, Steel Magnolias is a lighthearted gathering of women in a salon, discussing whether their colors are Autumn or Spring. Underneath is a hinted darkness that gains power, threatening their lives, and the pink draped beauty parlor transforms into a refuge of support and understanding. Playwright Robert Harling based the story on his sister, Susan, who passed away from complications after giving birth as a type 1 diabetic, and it was adapted into several popular films.

In the classic Southern town of Chinquapin Parish, Truvy is the hair primping queen, ready with a smile or tears as needed for her beloved customers and friends. Wandering into her shop with a shady past, Annelle is welcomed with open arms, despite her sudden obsession with “born again” Christianity. Affluent Clairee appears to have gentle poise, but enjoys practical jokes, and has saintly tolerance for rough around the edges Ouiser and her bitter commentary. The play opens with Shelby’s wedding preparations and her well-intended argument with M’Lynn, her mother, over whether baby’s breath belongs in an elegant hairstyle. Their relationship is a ping pong match of anger and tenderness.

mollie boice portrays Ouiser as hiding a romantic soul under layers of gall and sarcastic remarks, clomping about while discovering just the right moments to slip in a humorous look or reaction. Effervescent Jennifer Peck (Truvy) gives continuity to the play with her reassuring presence. The cast is superb, and Jill K. Wagoner’s anguish as M’Lynn in the final scene was heart-breaking, leading to an impactful denouement.

Steel Magnolias - 6th Street Playhouse

Gail Reine’s costume designs are classic 1980s with tapestry vests, puffed sleeves and vivid colors. Sam Transleau’s set has echoes of Evangelical church banners surrounding a lounge that shifts décor as time passes, covered in gaudy Christmas decorations or crocheted Kleenex boxes.

Director Beulah Vega creates a realistic atmosphere of women who are far from perfect, but stalwart in their affection for each other, ready with a stern lecture or comforting shoulder to cry on. Life is messy, and Steel Magnolias shows that it is more important to be there for each other, rather than attempt to fix the situation alone. Hairspray clouds the air in this hopeful picture of six extraordinary women at 6th Street Playhouse.