REVIEW: Avon Players’ ‘Steel Magnolias’ Dishes Up Sass and Southern Hospitality

 

When it comes to southern women, there’s either the notion they are overly genteel (sipping sweet tea on their porches) or like Scarlett O’Hara (prone to theatrical hysterics). But those who have spent any amount of time living in the south know that while the women certainly do have a penchant for manners, they can also be tough as nails and are not to be crossed; like Leigh Anne Tuohy in the movie The Blindside. And it’s this juxtaposition that perfectly describes the ladies of Steel Magnolias, who on Friday night brought their temerity to the stage as Avon Players kicked off their 2018-2019 season.

The play is based on the personal experiences of playwright Robert Harling, but people are probably more familiar with the 1989 movie which starred Olympia Dukakis, Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine, Dolly Parton, and Julia Roberts. And while the movie was great, there’s something special about seeing this story unfold live before you.

Shelby (Alana Ballantyne) and M’Lynn (Lesa Bydalek) share a mother-daughter moment during Act One.
Photo credit: Avon Players Theatre Facebook page

Set in mid-eighties Louisiana, the entire play takes place a little over two years in Truvy Jones’ beauty salon. Out of the seven cast members, six are familiar faces to the Avon stage, with another Avon veteran, Dan Romzek (last seen in The Bridges of Madison County) at the helm as director. As for the men of Steel Magnolias, there aren’t any. That’s probably the major difference from its screen counterpart. The men are talked about, but never appear on the stage, which I like because it keeps the focus solely on the women. To refresh your memory the cast of characters include: the curvaceous salon owner Truvy (Lia DiFonzo), sweet and naïve Annelle (Emily Locke), sassy and classy Clairee (Joy Oetjens), lovable curmudgeon Ouiser (Judy Privasky), practical mother hen M’Lynn (Lesa Bydalek, and the bubbly and optimistic Shelby (newcomer Alana Ballantyne). What gives this play zip is the witty quips peppered throughout the performance such as, “If you can’t say anything nice about anybody, come sit by me.” (Clairee). Or “I’m not crazy… I’ve just been in a very bad mood for 40 years.” (Ouiser).

L-R: M’Lynn (Lesa Bydalek), Clairee (Joy Oetjens), and Ouiser (Judy Privasky) test the boundaries of their friendship in Act Two.
Photo credit: Avon Players Theatre Facebook page

In order for these lines to work and fully engage the audience the delivery has to be well-timed. These are not timid words because these are not timid women. Since this was opening night, there are bound to be a few jitters, which I sensed during the first act. It was as if the actresses were finding their footing and getting a feel for their audience. Well, it worked, because when they took the stage for the second act, I noticed more chutzpah in their presence and delivery. As if they were more in sync with their characters and were owning their onstage personas. And the packed house seemed to notice it as well. Their newfound confidence really brought the passion of the play home. You felt what the actresses were emoting on stage in a way only live theatre can convey. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve watched the movie. This production makes it personal, which in turn makes it very real. Because much like southern women themselves, there’s another side to this play. The one that showcases each woman’s strength and quiet resolve in the face of adversity. The beauty salon isn’t just a place for hair and gossip; it’s also a safe space for the rollercoaster ride life takes us on. And this production absolutely sells that sentiment. Each actress dug deep to deliver performances that remind us we’re not designed to go through life alone. Every person’s tribe of friends looks different, but the one constant is that they are always there for each other, no matter what. As Shelby tells M’Lynn, “I would rather have 30 minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special.” And a couple hours of special is exactly what you’ll experience with this heartfelt production.

The show runs approximately two and a half hours with a 15-minute intermission. Remaining performances are:

  • Saturday, September 8          8:00 p.m.
  • Sunday, September 9             2:00 p.m.
  • Friday, September 14             8:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, September 15         8:00 p.m.
  • Sunday, September 16            2:00 p.m.
  • Friday, September 21              8:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, September 22         8:00 p.m.

Tickets for all shows are $18. Call 248-608-9077 for tickets or order online at www.AvonPlayers.org. Group rates are available by calling the box office. “Like” Avon Players Theatre on Facebook for special offers on tickets. Visa and MasterCard are accepted. All seats are reserved.

About Sarah Hovis

Word manipulator, arts appreciator, sports spectator, and world traveler, Sarah charts her own course as the owner of saliho creative. She uses her creative mind and engaging dialogue to fearlessly bring the written word to life in print and online… all while keeping a watchful eye out for the next literary adventure. You can reach her at sarah@rochestermedia.com.

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