CENTERVILLE — Every once and a while, there comes a piece of theatre that is poignant and comedic at the same time. When that show is found, you can’t help but feel special while watching it and thinking about it afterwards. Steel Magnolias by Robert Harling is such a show, and at CenterPoint showcased strong acting as well as great storytelling.
Based partially on Harling’s real-life challenges, Steel Magnolias tells the story of a group of women who share a sacred bond and friendship that has grown from of the trials and joys they have faced together. Annelle is a new hairstylist at Truvy’s hair salon, where the plot unfolds with comedic and dramatic grace. She befriends and grows closer to Shelby, Shelby’s mother M’Lynn, Truvy the owner, Clairee, and Ouiser. Throughout the play, the women’s bond grows even stronger as a series of events challenge them more than ever before. I have heard of this play by name only and had a very basic idea of what the plot involved. With such a relatively easy story to follow, the actresses made that experience worthwhile and exciting to witness.
There was not one bad actress in this production. Impressively, two of the actresses, Mims Zimmerman (who plays M’Lynn) and Kathy Cappellucci (who plays Clairee), have not done any acting since their high school years. Kate Williams, who plays Annelle, was a treasure to behold in her performance. From the moment the lights went up, her quirky and awkward performance as Annelle drew me in to her character’s life and predicaments, and I immediately felt a connection to her performance. Williams successfully portrayed the transition Annelle’s character makes from the shy, timid girl to a strong, powerful member of the group of women.
Jessica Love played the role of Shelby, and her performance—along with Zimmerman’s performance as Shelby’s mother M’Lynn—was a tour-de-force to behold. Shelby, a strong independent woman who suffers from type 1 diabetes, wishes to show her mother that she can take care of herself and others. M’Lynn only wants the best for her daughter and wants to keep her safe after learning Shelby is pregnant, much against the advice of her doctors. Throughout the performance, Love showed as how a young bride-to-be transitions into a concerned and loving mother and daughter. Her honest and real performance left a powerful impression of what it means to be yourself. Zimmerman’s performance as M’Lynn was something I will never forget. As a concerned mother, she powerfully and dramatically showcased her desire to help and protect Shelby. Without giving away the ending, Zimmerman’s impactful scene near the climax of the play had me tearing up with emotion. I couldn’t help but feel a connection to her character’s life and struggles. She truly was maternal.
Carissa Klitgaard (as Truvy), Kathy Cappellucci (as Clairee), and Hazel Rowe portrayed their characters with such honesty and perfect comedic timing that I couldn’t help but grow closer to them and their characters. Rowe was especially endearing in her portrayal as Ouiser, the often cranky yet sweet member of the group. From her first entrance, her fiery and rambunctious dialogue and body language was a highlight of the night.
However, even with these powerful performances, the show wasn’t without it’s weak spots. Certain scenes lacked the right amount of sympathy and attention. One example was when Shelby has a seizure because of her diabetes. While the slow drift into the seizure was noticeable and made me know something was wrong, the delivery of the actual seizure seemed robotic and stiff. Other noticeable chinks in the performance were the set changes. In both instances, the lights were out for way too long. During a transition into a Christmas scene, the audience listened to the whole 2 minutes and 45 seconds of Merle Haggard’s “If We Make It Through December.” And after the lights came up, the changes the crew made were not justification for that long wait. Two wreaths and a small table tree were all that were added during the blackout.
As well as these awkward set changes, Brian Hahn‘s set was somewhat lackluster. One of the first lines said in the play by Truvy is “This is the nicest shop in the city.” With that in mind, the set was not as nice as it could have been with grey walls and an old brown coffee table, among other things. It wasn’t where I’d imagine women with “more money than God,” as Ouicer says, would go to get their hair done. The set, however, did have real salon chairs, salon hair dryers, and running water in a sink that greatly added to the effect.
The set was also hard to stage intimate scenes successfully on some occasions. One specific misstep by director Janet Cook was when Truvy and Clairee had a discussion from opposite sides of the stage. My head was turning from left to right the whole scene trying to follow their conversation.
Despite these challenges, Steel Magnolias is easily a memorable production that needs attention. The strong performances and delivery of those performances make it easily one of the shows you should see this theater season. Cook says in the program that this show is not only for women, and she is right. It is a great story that will be enjoyed by men, women, teenagers, and anyone else looking for an enjoyable evening.