Set in the pleasantly pastel-colored world of Truvy’s beauty salon, The Little Theatre of Alexandria’s production of Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias starts out by introducing us the everyday life of the women of this small Louisiana town. Carla Crawford’s Truvy is brash, colorful and unlikely to let a bit of gossip pass her by, for instance when newcomer Annelle appears in her life with a suspicious lack of family and a sort-of husband. The bashful Annelle (Susan Smythe) spends much of the first scene in the background, except when she accidentally serves Truvy and her friend Clairee a unique flavored coffee.
Much of the first scene appears to be just chatter dedicated to Shelby Eatenton’s wedding later that night, and the colors she has chosen for the event. In fact, a great deal of the play is focused on clothes, hair, and nails: Truvy’s motto, as she impresses upon Annelle, is “there is no such thing as natural beauty.” But throughout the play, we discover the depths hidden behind these women’s everyday rhythms, and the heart.
While Crawford’s Truvy initially commands the stage as the sassy Southern hairdresser, it is the story of M’Lynn Eatenton (Alana D. Sharp) and her daughter Shelby (Kelsey Yudice) that pulls this play together. Shelby’s diabetes makes it inadvisable for her to have children. But after being turned away by adoption agencies, Shelby decides she is unable to accept this and decides to have a child of her own—to the chagrin of her mother, who fears for her daughter’s safety.
Sharp’s portrayal of M’Lynn manages to capture the character’s inner war: her concern for her daughter’s safety and her desire for Shelby to be happy. Both the tension and the love between these two women is brought to life by these two talented actresses, including Yudice, who is able to make us believe both in Shelby’s girlish innocence and in her fierce determination to fight for what she wants.
Smythe’s Annelle blossoms from shy stranger into religious convert with warmth and conviction. Brenda Parker’s Clairee and her frenemy Ouiser (Patricia Spencer Smith) complete the ensemble with a mixture of sarcastic humor and surprising warmth that come to light throughout the play.
During the fireworks – though the actresses attempted to raise their voices -it was not enough to counter the noise, and, unfortunately, several jokes were drowned out. These moments could be improved by saying fewer lines over the fireworks, and making it a point to actually yell those few lines. The accents, too, had varying degrees of success. Crawford’s and Smythe’s stood out as the most authentic, while others’ tended to drift in and out.
Matt Liptak’s set design creates a space that is meant for women, a place where they can come together and open up without the fear that their husbands might come by and spoil the fun. Marzanne Claiborne’s soft lighting complements this idea and shows hints of passing seasons and time, while David Hale and David Correia’s sound design gives us a closer look at the characters through the music they choose to play. Ceci Albert’s costumes add to each character’s personality, from Truvy’s bold leopard-print and tight pants—even her black mourning shirt features a full-sized tiger on the back—to the fashion-conscious Shelby’s touch of pink in everything she wears.
With care, and with heart, Director Sharon Veselic has brought together a talented cast that portrays the silliness, the love, the sadness, and the unquenchable strength of these women. This is a play of “laughter through tears,” which the Little Theatre of Alexandria has brought to life in a production you won’t want to miss.
Running Time: Two hours and 40 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.