Even if you know the story, saw the movie or an earlier production of Steel Magnolias, this iteration warrants a return visit, because it’s likely you haven’t seen an actual mother and daughter in the roles. The casting adds a special charm and poignancy to the script, and it doesn’t hurt that both actresses are particularly good in their portrayals.
The story hinges on the loving, if prickly, mother-daughter relationship between M’Lynn and Shelby played winningly by Sheri S. Herren and Laura Herren both almost too commercially pretty to be taken seriously for the roles, until they open their mouths and say their lines. Then, bingo, it hits—these ladies are Good. Laura Herren is such a natural that she hardly seems to notice that she’s on a stage at all and instead actually lives and breathes her part. She has embodied Shelby in every nuance and manner, adjusting her gestures and movements to match her condition as the play progresses.
Sheri S. Herren brings a solid sense of strength and integrity as M’Lynn—she is the rock steady support for Shelby who needs her more than she will ever let on. Shelby has a chronic illness that M’Lynn keeps watch on, and when Shelby is weakened and fatigued to the point of nearly collapsing, M’Lynn is right there to keep her standing and functioning, steadying her wobbling steps. It’s a dance that’s obviously gone on for years and the actual mother-daughter casting adds a heightened authenticity to the constant maternal instincts of care.
The play starts in the summer where the patrons of a beauty shop primp and prep for Shelby’s wedding, spans through the Christmas Holiday and then picks up two years later, reflecting the lives of this stalwart community of women who support each other through it all.
The other cast members are as effective and demonstrate their own steel magnolia survival instincts. Larissa Gallagher as Truvy the beautician is a sleek, trim wonder in stretch leggings and come hither platform shoes, directing the operations and guiding much of the action. Annelle played by Brianna Letourneau shows the most growth with every scene, first appearing as a nearly homeless waif, cautious, silent, dressed in mousey attire, and stumbling over her words. Once in the domain of the indefatigable bunch, she blossoms into the confident, courageous woman she was meant to be, and Letourneau plays the part with gusto.
Jane E. Petkofsky as Clairee hits her scenes with her usual strutting flair as a gussied up well-to-do widow in tailored suits to die for (costumes by Erin Nugent). Petkofsky has the great comic timing and delivery of the masters as evidenced in most of her clear spoken quips, and can be trusted to fix any muffled patches that snagged her on opening night. Linda High rounds out the cast as the loud-mouthed, boorish friend Ouiser, who also knows her way around the stage, grabs a spot and knows what to do with it.
Director Mark A. Rhea moves the characters effectively around the well-stocked beauty parlor, basins and all, set design by Trena Weiss-Null and the hair scenes actually work; Shelby really does look ready for her wedding, baby’s breath in her hair and all, handiwork of official hairstylist Craig Miller.
This production of Steel Magnolias demonstrates the timeless appeal of this well-known play. It is simple, direct, and makes its heartfelt points without fuss and minimal sentiment—that no matter what happens, life goes on, and with a good friend or two by your side, you can get through anything.
The play is an interesting selection for Keegan, known for its distinctively strong voice, and it works well. The company’s upcoming Fall season looks terrific, starting with The Crucible, which is slated for an Irish tour, and ending with Twelve Angry Men, with Spring Awakening and other show-stoppers in-between.
Written by Robert Harling
Directed by Mark A. Rhea
Produced by Keegan Theatre
Reviewed by Debbie MinterJackson
Running time: 2 hrs, 15 mins, with one intermission