By Susan Nolan
In their production of Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias, the Twin Beach Players invite you to visit the fictional Chinquapin Parish, Louisiana. You will also be visiting the 1980s—and it will, no doubt, look and feel very familiar.
After all, you know the plot. Harling first wrote Steel Magnolias as a short story based on the loss of his sister Susan Harling Robinson. Like his protagonist Shelby, Robinson was diabetic and died shortly after a failed kidney transplant. The other characters in the story are loosely based on the community of women who rallied around the family following her death.
When Harling turned his story into a script, it became an international stage hit (1987), a Hollywood blockbuster (1989), and then a sitcom pilot (1990). In 2012, Lifetime Network produced it as a television film with an all-African American cast.
If you are a fan of any incarnation of Steel Magnolias, you may be wondering if the Twin Beach Players can make the iconic roles their own. After all, the big screen hit starred Hollywood legends Shirley MacLaine, Sally Field, and Dolly Parton. Julia Roberts won a Golden Globe Award for her portrayal of Shelby. Queen Latifah, Alfre Woodard, and Phylicia Rashad starred in the Lifetime Network production and made it the third most-watched Lifetime Original. Even the ill-fated sitcom featured well-known veteran actors Sally Kirkland, Elaine Stritch, Cindy Williams, and Polly Bergen.
The good news is that the Twin Beach Players are up to the task—and we really, really like them! Under the direction of Rachel Cruz, the cast embodies the tireless support and deep camaraderie found in female friendships.
As Truvy, the good-hearted salon owner, Julie Fox shines. Elizabeth Campbell plays Annelle, the awkward newcomer who is transformed into a good-time party girl and then a born-again Christian, with touching vulnerability. Lindsay Dove has a beautiful and commanding stage presence as Clairee, the former mayor’s widow. Jeanne Louise portrays Ouiser, the town curmudgeon, with sarcasm and sass—and perfect comedic timing.
Kate Harrison as M’Lynn and Alexys Adams as Shelby have true chemistry as a middle-aged mother and her grown daughter. As we follow them from their arguments on Shelby’s wedding day to M’Lynn’s moving monologue on the day of Shelby’s funeral, we are reminded that a mother’s love is fierce and precious.
The Twin Beach Players are also to be commended for their outstanding set design. The entire two-act play takes place in Truvy’s Beauty Spot, a home-based hair and nail salon. From the pink and green floral wallpaper to the Art Deco revival prints, Truvy’s is filled with true 1980s nostalgia. The music and kitschy ‘80s references found in the details are brilliantly fun!
This production has a multi-generational appeal. Whether you see it with your mother, your daughter, or your best friend, be sure to bring a handkerchief and expect a lot of laughter and quite a few tears. As Truvy says, “Laughter through the tears is my favorite emotion.”
Steel Magnolias runs thru Sept. 25, FSa 8pm, Su 3pm, North Beach Boys & Girls Club, $18 w/discounts, RSVP: twinbeachplayers.org.