SANDY — As March wound down, Hale Centre Theatre began their run of a play that perfectly embodies what March is officially known as: Women’s Month. Steel Magnolias, written by Robert Harling, premiered in New York City in 1987 and has since been produced numerous times by professional and amateur theatre troupes across the nation. The play has even spawned a famous film adaptation. The story of courage, humor, and womanhood are a crowd favorite and Hale Centre Theatre has successfully produced a well-constructed performance of the classic play.
Set in Truvy’s Hair Salon in the 80’s, the plot line follows the lives of six women who have bonds and friendships stronger than sisterhood. Truvy (Brooklyn Kohler), Annelle (Serena Collins), Clairee (Linda Stephenson), Shelby (Elise Pearce), M’Lynn (Tamari Dunbar), and Ouiser (Jayne Luke) all have grown friendships after becoming acquainted by frequenting Truvy’s hair salon. While exchanging humorous quips and stories, the women also embrace the struggles and tragedies of life as Shelby learns she is pregnant, much against the advice of her mother M’Lynn and her doctors due to the fact she is a diabetic. With a fierce determination, Shelby and the others embrace their future together as the story unfolds over several years filled with humor, tragedy, and love.
The women in this production were phenomenal. Each one truly embodied a different woman with her own personality and quirks. I’ve seen this play a few times, but these wonderful actresses put a new life and different perspectives on the timeless characters, and I thoroughly enjoyed the choices they and Larry West. In particular, watching Annelle (Collins) change from a shy, conservative youth to an independent and proud woman was a delight. In overall character arc, I found the journey of M’Lynn (Dunbar) particularly moving to watch. Her abrasive, yet genuine, concern for her daughter Shelby’s (Pearce) health and happiness tugged at my heart-strings and revitalized the love I have in my heart for my own daughter. The other players only enhanced these feelings and sentiments and reminded me why I enjoy the theater so much. The actors all showcased their strong acting talents as they were able to switch between comedic and dramatic acting effortlessly.
The production design added to these great performances subtly, yet powerfully. The Sorenson Legacy Jewel Box stage at Hale Centre is a large theater in its own right when compared to other venues throughout the state. I have not seen a straight play in this space yet, so I didn’t know what to expect with regards to the set filling up such a large stage. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find a fully-fledged salon on the stage set with salon chairs, a full-head hair dryer, and a running water sink. The walls were covered in a wallpaper that perfectly embodied 80’s interior design with strong designs and stark contrasting colors. While not appealing by today’s standards, it perfectly fit the idea and vision from the 1980’s. A large window looked outside into a convincing backdrop of fences, trees, and a digital backdrop of the southern skyline. The overall message and feeling I got from the set design was prominent in this production. With the bright spring colors present on the walls and furniture and a few plush toy bunnies and a growing tree looming over the salon roof, the salon emanated with the idea of Spring and Easter: that all things change and that change can be good. The set design by Jenn Taylor was a smart and effective choice to enhance this idea.
Hale Centre Theatre has produced a wonderful adaptation of a crowd favorite, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The performances were well constructed and the overall delivery of the material tugs at the heartstrings. I enjoyed watching the chemistry between these actresses and I would highly recommend getting tickets before they are gone.