Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

January 15, 2018

Steel Magnolias

Playhouse on Park, West Hartford, CT
through Jan. 28, 2018
by Stuart Gamble

Photo by Curt Henderson
Probably I’m one of the few people who has not seen the entire 1989 film version of “Steel Magnolias” (I have seen PART of it though), so Playhouse on Park’s current production of Robert Harling’s comic gem was a totally new experience. This all-female show perfectly defines ensemble piece, allowing each actress to display her comic, and dramatic skills.

Set in the fictional town of Chinquapin, Louisiana in the 1980’s, the audience first meets Truvy Jones (Jill Taylor Anthony), owner of the hair salon where the play’s entire action takes place. Annelle Dupuy (Liza Couser) is Truvy’s nervous new assistant. Frequent customer Clairee Belcher (Dorothy Stanley) is Chinquapin’s former First Lady and high school football aficionado. Soon-to-be bride Shelby Eatenton (Susan Slotoroff) and her controlling mother M’Lynn (Jeannie Hines) are being coiffed on Shelby’s big day. Last, and certainly not least, is Ousier Boudreaux (Peggy Cosgrave), the most sharp-tongued of these Southern Belles.

The women in this production are all first-rate and full of charm and elegance. The play’s focal-point is the mother/daughter conflict between Shelby and M’Lynn. Susan Slotoroff’s Shelby is the play’s lifeline, whose radiant smile and positive view of life shines brightly on all. Jeannie Hines’ M’Lynn’s understated calm has its cathartic release in her moving monologue in the final scene. Liza Couser’s pitiable Annelle  achieves a fine balance between humor and pathos. Jill Taylor Anthony is a warm, serene Earth Mother among the drama that blooms around her. Peggy Cosgrave’s prickly, yet ultimately compassionate, Ousier spouts some of the play’s funniest lines including, “I’ve been in a bad mood for forty years!” Despite delivering some witty lines, actress Dorothy Stanley’s timing is a bit off, causing the show’s pace to slow down ever so slightly.

Director Susan Haefner has created a bright and delightfully funny show for all to enjoy. David Lewis’ scenic design highlights this warmth and realism in the beauty salon through the use of period driers, hairspray cans, and actual hair strewn over the stage. Kate Bunce’s colorful costumes add to the ambience of the 80’s. The show’s Dialect Coach David Alan Stern merits special attention for not only coaching these Steel Magnolias, but also the film’s stars as well (his website is listed in the show’s program).