Review: ‘Steel Magnolias’ at Sterling Playmakers

So many stories can be started with “boy meets girl.” It’s a trope that almost clutters literature – and drama for that matter. Even in shows with almost exclusively off-stage men, they are often the driving force in the plot with women responding to their unseen antics. However, there are those gems that celebrate not women as sidekicks, but as friends—and Steel Magnolias, presented by Sterling Playmakers, is one of those. Focusing on the relationships of these six women, the play moves past the commonality of romantic love and instead talks about the love between friends, even when it’s not easy.

‘Steel Magnolias’ at The Sterling Playmakers. Photo by Alan Price.

Directed by Jim Collinson and produced by Shanna Christian, this production focuses on the deep abiding friendships between Truvy, Clairee, Ouiser, and M’Lynn —and M’Lynn’s daughter Shelby and newcomer Annelle. Collinson’s direction allows these women to shine, and the friendship represented on the stage resonates in the way each interacts with the other, not only verbally but also physically. The actors are enormously comfortable with each other and the material, and this brings a realism to the friendships portrayed.

Truvy, played beautifully by Liz Mykietyn, is the warm hearth around which the others gather. Her salon is not just where you get your hair done, but your soul fed. As we meet her, she is just hiring Annelle and welcoming her to town. At first, Truvy seems a bit of a gossip, but Mykietyn turns even her gossiping into a facet of Truvy’s kindness. As she learns Annelle’s back story, her reaction is not one of a gossip, but that of a woman who has found someone in need of protection. Mykietyn plays her with realistic fun, with a deep heart of gold.

Janet Davis, playing Clairee, is given the best one-liners of the play and it could be easy to portray this character as if permanently attached to its own laugh track. However, Davis brings to life Clairee and her story arc as the widow searching for new purpose and her own path. Her Clairee is a person who knows pain and does her best to protect others from it. Her frenemy, Ouiser Boudreaux (Caren Christiansen) is the perfect foil for Clairee’s positivity and hope, and yet she’s no less a source of strength. Christiansen is sure to show that despite Ouiser’s bluntness and “bad mood for the last 40 years,” these women are her emotional rock and where she allows herself to put down her battle shield, even just for a quick trim and style.

Jordan Lohmeyer’s Annelle is the joy of the production, from her topknot scrunchies in the first scene to her “conviction of the converted” in Act Two. Lohmeyer expertly maneuvers Annelle from terrified new girl with a questionable past to a woman secure in the deep friendships she found, even if she’s not always sure of their spiritual journeys.

However, it is the relationship of M’Lynn (Sarah Hardy) and her daughter Shelby (Emelie Colmery) that shines in this production—as it shows not only the power of a mother’s love but also the difficulty of watching one’s children make their own decisions. Colmery’s portrayal of Shelby is of a woman growing up and changing from a daughter into an adult. As her decisions put her at risk, Hardy’s M’Lynn shows the struggle of allowing your child to leave the nest and the maternal instinct to always protect and provide. Hardy’s last scene is simply a show-stealer—achievable only in a setting where the actor feels secure enough to let the emotions take hold knowing her fellow cast members will be there to support.

This play, and Collinson’s deft direction, highlights the relationship between these women, as mothers, daughters, wives, and widows, and friends – and the strength you get when you are confident of the love surrounding you. To have this come alive on stage demonstrates not only Collinson’s talent as a director but his and Shanna Christian’s genius for casting actors who could not only carry the emotional load but could also trust one another in every scene.

'Steel Magnolias' at The Sterling Playmakers. Photo by Alan Price.
‘Steel Magnolias’ at The Sterling Playmakers. Photo by Alan Price.

The set, expertly designed by Joe Christian, is beautifully tacky with teal walls, and brings you immediately home to Chinquapin, Louisiana, in the ‘80s, including a timely Jean Nate bottle hiding in the shelves. Although the set never moves, nor does the curtain close, it is brought to life as time passes with props (Aubry Fisher) and lighting (Marie Casey). Caroline Mercurio (hair and make-up) and Judith Harmon (costumes) used up gallons of hairspray and some of the ugliest Christmas sweaters ever imagined to recreate the over-the-top time period without falling prey to kitsch and neon. Annelle’s blue eye shadow in the first scene is a triumph of time period tackiness and might deserve its own curtain call.

This wonderful production is a heart-warming love-letter to the friendships that keep you centered when your world is spinning out of a control. Don’t miss out on the chance to spend a couple of hours with these wonderful women and their love for each other.

Running Time: Two and a half hours including one 15-minute intermission

The Sterling Playmaker’s Steel Magnolias plays April 26-28, 2019 and May 3-5, 2019; Fridays & Saturdays 7:30 pm; Sundays 2:00 pm at the Theatre at Seneca Ridge Middle School – 98 Seneca Ridge Drive, in Sterling, Virginia. Tickets are $13 at the door or online. at Sterlingplaymakers.com