Playwright Robert Harling based the STEEL MAGNOLIAS story on his experience with the death of his diabetic sister. As her best friend and closest sibling, Harling found it difficult to cope with losing her, and his friends advised him to write about his feelings as a coping method. What began as a short story then evolved into a full-length play due to the complexity of the relationships and emotions that existed among the female characters who are “as delicate as magnolias, but as tough as steel” who utilize humor and lighthearted conversations to cope with the seriousness of life’s underlying situations.
The six incredibly talented women in the Theatre Palisades production bring these characters and their unique personalities fully to life moment by moment, each fully engaged with bits of action every second they are on stage.
Thanks to director Brandon Ferruccio’s expert fast pacing, and Sherman Wayne’s cleverly authentic multi-level set, you will feel you are not just watching a play but are a fly on the wall in Truvy’s small-town Louisiana beauty parlor where social veneers are set aside and honesty reigns as the women who regularly gather there share their lives, loves, and heartache – as well as all the town gossip! Together they revel in one another’s joys and face life’s bitterness with extraordinary mettle that suits the metaphor in the play’s title.
“Steel Magnolias” begins on the morning of Shelby’s wedding in April 1988 and covers events over the next three years, including Shelby’s decision to have a child despite having Type 1 diabetes and the complications that result from the decision. Grace O’Neill’s Shelby is a self-centered, spoiled rotten Southern Belle who knows her limits but chooses to ignore them. Thankfully her mother M’Lynn (Maria O’Connor) keeps a watchful eye on her beloved daughter, and though often disagreeing with her, eventually offers her support even when the decisions she makes have dire consequences for both of them. This is what unconditional love is all about and O’Connor’s truthful, emotional breakdown when dealing with the loss of her daughter will rivet your attention and pull at your heartstrings.
Although the main storyline involves Shelby, her mother, and Shelby’s medical battles, the underlying group-friendship among all six women is prominent throughout the drama with all six women baring their souls and humor with each other. The unlikely friendship between classy Clairee (Catherine Rahm, brilliantly delivering the play’s best biting one-liners) and the town’s curmudgeon Ouiser (Sherry Coon) are entertaining and laugh-generating, while Jessica Hogan magically transforms Annelle from a shy, anxious newcomer in town to a revival-tent Christian and expectant mother, with all confiding with shop owner Truvy (Courtney Shaffer, taking us on a journey to the pureness of her soul and love in her heart) who listens to all, especially when sharing their frustrations with the men in their lives. And oh, how these women love to gossip!
Susan Stangl’s voice-overs during scene breaks add authenticity and humor to this tender, funny, and sometimes heart wrenching perennial favorite of the American stage about the family tug of war between mother and daughter and their supportive beauty shop friends, ultimately offering an honest look at life and its issues in a very Southern and ladylike way.
“Steel Magnolias”, directed by Brandon Ferruccio and produced by Sherman Wayne and Martha Hunter, continues through Feb. 16, on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. at Theatre Palisades Pierson Playhouse, 941 Temescal Canyon Dr. (just south of Sunset Blvd.), Pacific Palisades. General admission tickets are $22, seniors and students $20, available by calling 310-454-1970 or at the box office starting one hour prior to each performance. Free parking on-site.