By Brian D'Ambrosio
The Missoula Community Theatre dishes up a southern slice of life as familiar and comforting as sweet potato pie. Opening tonight, March 15, Steel Magnolias is the quintessential story of warmth, friendship and trust.
With its heavy comedic and dramatic underpinnings, Steel Magnolias visits the world of Truvy's local-homegrown beauty salon in Chinquapin, Louisiana. There we find six distinct women braving life's misadventures through the medium of small-town gossip.
Weddings to divorces, new births to funerals, they share each moment in their lives with grace, determination, and flawlessly coiffed hair. The ladies face every event - whether joyful or heartbreaking - with humility and humor. This emotional mixture is what made Robert Harling's 1987 book and the subsequent Hollywood film successful.
Director TJ Charlson hopes to emphasize the unflinchingly human characteristics that made the book and film so relatable and celebrate the love, intimacy, and strength of southern women who are steel magnolias.
"The play's great strength is that it is full of real characters," says director TJ Charlson. "It is full of real emotions and characters that are authentic. There are no caricatures in Steel Magnolias. Another one of its strength is its good ensemble acting. The play's shared ensemble acting and its tight writing really make it stand out."
The women of Steel Magnolias are witty, smart and sometimes a bit crazy.
"We chose Steel Magnolias because it provides a variety of good roles for mature women," says Charlson. "There is a slew of great female talent here in Missoula. This show is a very good fit."
There is Annelle, whose unresponsive husband and marital stress are two of the salon's popular topics; Annelle is the new assistant to Truvy, the outspoken owner. Truvy dispenses shampoo, anecdotes and plenty of advice to the rich curmudgeon Ouiser, eccentric millionaire Miss Clairee and classic Southern mother M'Lynn, whose lovely daughter Shelby is set to marry.
Opening on Shelby's wedding day, the story moves towards tragedy when the diabetic young woman risks pregnancy. Despite admonition from doctors that pregnancy might be life-threatening, Shelby decides - much to M'Lynn's dismay - to have a child.
From new beginnings to sad endings, Truvy's is the place where the women seek the solace, support, and familiar reassurance to help them through.
Charlson, who directed his first show at Missoula Community Theatre in 1993 (Amadeus), fields a cast of savvy talents in the roles of the six Southern gals. Patti Sorgi plays Truvy; Anne-Marie Williams plays M'Lynn; Bridget Smith plays Shelby; Ashley Breza plays Annelle; Teresa Waldorf plays Ouiser; and Linda Muth plays wisecracking Clairee, who memorably quips, "If you can't find anything good to say about anybody, come sit by me!"
Crammed with 1980s nostalgia and memorable one-liners, Steel Magnolias is one the funniest, tear-inducing plays ever written. Indeed, laughter through tears is the play's strongest emotion.
"Steel Magnolias is almost a period piece," says Charlson. "But it doesn't wallow in the time period. There is nothing offensive about it. It resonates simple honesty and realism. Ultimately, it is about hope and survival and keeping the love and spirit of life alive."
An enduring tale of love, loss and friendship, Steel Magnolias opens at Missoula Community Theatre tonight, March 15 and runs through March 24. The show runs Wednesday through Sunday, with weekend matinees. Tickets go on sale February 25. Tickets: www.mctinc.org. Box office: (406) 728-7529.