REVIEW: Steel Magnolias captures essence of vivacious women

Women gath­­er wherever they can to talk about life and work through its inevitable triumphs and sorrows – usually while multi-tasking.

There is much beauty to be found in the interaction of these strong flowers, as captured on­stage in Drayton Entertain­ment’s Steel Magnolias.

Six women deliver moving performances as the audience gets a glimpse of life at a cozy Louisiana hairdresser’s shop. As they preen for Shelby’s wed­ding day and over the course of a couple of tumul­tu­ous years, the audience dis­covers that these southern gals are more than the sum total of their highlights and pink finger­nails.

Although they enjoy a good conflab – as Clairee reiterates, “If you don’t have anything nice to say about anybody, come sit by me” – they are nonetheless towers of strength to each other.

Steel Magnolias was ori­gi­nally a 1987 off-Broadway play by Robert Harling, who wrote it as a way of dealing with a great personal loss. The play was made into a block­buster movie in 1989 with a cast to beat all. Among them was Dolly Parton in the role of Truvy, the “there is no such thing as natural beauty” hair­dresser who epitomized the earthy, loving nature of a dolly bird, and Julia Roberts who was nominated for an Oscar.

Comedy is not at the forefront of the play, although there are several good one-liners. Many of those are delivered with just the right shot of wry by Joan Gregson, as Clairee, the elegant, affluent matriarch of the group who provides comic relief to all. She even offers the very funny Linda Goranson, as Ouiser, up as fodder. “Here hit this,” Clairee says of Ouiser, when the stress is up and chips are down.

The play revolves around Shelby, played by Jackie Mus­takas, as the diabetic daughter of M’Lynn, played by Lynn Vogt. Shelby’s wish to be a mother overshadows all reason and thereby creates most of the pathos. Mus­takas’ performance evok­es great compassion, de­spite her character being somewhat of a ninny.

Lynn Vogt, in her Drayton debut, takes the cake. Her performance is heart wrenching and raw. All of the audience – yes, even the men – can feel her pain in whatever their personal context. Her outburst was the most precious moment of the play.

Susan Greenfield plays Truvy, the hairdresser and salon owner who is something of the tie that binds this group of regulars together. Her per­formance demonstrates the dual­ity that reoccurs within the play; as in the juxtaposition of tender and worldly wise versus creator of big hair, and coping with a TV-addicted, deadbeat hus­band.

The new kid on the chair, Annelle, is played by Kate South­well. She evolves con­vin­c­ingly throughout the play with the guidance of her com­passionate customers and co­horts.

Steel Magnolias is directed by Rona Waddington, who is perceptive in her interpretation and guidance of the characters, while effectively including the southern flair and accents. Her experience is evident here.

The set is remarkable and does great justice to the show. The 1980s hair salon is a glimpse back in time, with working sink and hair dryers. Whoever in the audience can re­call weekly visits to the hairdresser for a shampoo and set will enjoy this cozy scene thoroughly. The use of the audience as the “mirrors” allows a good look at the players.

Steel Magnolias plays eight shows per week until Aug. 30. Call the Box Office at 519-638-5555 or 1-888-449-4463. Visit