Those who have seen Steel Magnolias are familiar with the love, laughter, heartache as well as the true bond shared between Clairee, Shelby, M’Lynn, Truvy, Annelle, and Ouiser. For those who are unfamiliar with Steel Magnolias, it was the 1989 blockbuster movie starring Dolly Parton, Sally Field, Julia Roberts, Shirley McClain, Daryl Hannah and Olympia Dukakis. Steel Magnolias was originally a stage play written by Robert Harling. The story was based on Robert's experiences dealing with his sister's death. The story takes place at a salon in Chinquapin, Louisiana, "Where anyone who is anybody gets their hair done.” Steel Magnolias takes you on a journey into the lives of six women. You experience their ups and downs and feel their heartache and pain, but through it all, you see the love and devotion they share for one another.
When you enter the auditorium, you may be a little thrown off. It looks like an empty recreation room. You will see a stage, but no seating. It will all make sense once you go up the stairs and enter the door that leads to Truvy’s Hair Salon. The set was designed by Cailin Short and director Mark Boergers. They did a good job replicating an actual salon. The set was very intimate and positioned in the middle, with seating on opposite sides. The only drawback is the arrangement of the stage. At times it's difficult to see the reactions of all the actors during particular scenes. From time to time it felt like being at a tennis match.
Director Mark Boergers does a wonderful job directing this production. I was impressed with how well the scenes were put together. Each scene felt authentic, from the wetting and curling of M’Lynn’s hair to applying two coats of polish to Shelby’s hands. The flow of the scenes was well paced.
The acting was extremely well done. My favorite performances were those of Brookelyn Hebert (Shelby) and Natalie Sallee (M’Lynn). Brookelyn did a fantastic job as strong willed Shelby, the young woman who refused to give up on her dreams of becoming a mother. She embodied her character and her depiction of Shelby was just as good as Julia Roberts. Natalie’s performance was powerful, as Shelby's concerned yet devoted mother. She grasped my attention each time she took the stage. For me, she elevated M’Lynn’s character to higher level. Meg Elliott (Ouiser), Lucy Sandy (Truvy), Nicholia Q Aguirre (Clariee) and Nikkia Tyler (Annelle), also gave great performances.
Overall, I recommend the Arc’s production of Steel Magnolias. It was entertaining and very well executed. Tickets are currently available at the arctheatrechicago.org
Photos by Emily Schwartz