Review: Women Tell Their Personal Stories in Drama Guild's 'Steel Magnolias'

By: Joan Aucoin

Nicole Gardner as Annelle and Kristen Winn as Truvy in the Chatham Drama Guild's “Steel Magnolias.” COURTESY PHOTO

“Hold your head up high and greet the world like the incredible steel magnolia you were meant to be.”

“Steel Magnolias” opens the Chatham Drama Guild’s 91st season of entertainment with a six-member all-female cast, each a uniquely talented actress, dramatizing the stories of women seeking their own personal blossoming. And it all happens on women’s territory, Truvy’s Beauty Parlor in Chinquapin, La. 

Bright pink ornamental flowering blooms signal springtime as the Louisiana State Flower magnolia tree buds offer animals tasty fruit snacks. Magnolia petals are often dried and sprinkled for people to enjoy the flavoring all year long. Pink magnolias in wedding bouquets suggests purity of the bride’s heart. For Southern women, steel magnolias speaks to their strong yet delicate characters. “Shoot it, stomp it, or marry it” to put it bluntly.

Director Anna Marie Johansen and Producer Pam Banas escort the audience through the calendar seasons in two acts, one beauty parlor set of two working gals, four customers with some talk of inattentive husbands, a beautiful wedding, childbirth, motherhood, illness, a medical crisis and organ donation, then the sadness of losing a beloved daughter. “I would rather have 30 minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special.”

Emily Nyerick shines as the blossoming, stunning bride Shelby who is gorgeous in long curls, the central character who says “you can’t live a life if all you do is worry.” She is quite an accomplished actress who takes the audience full circle with heartfelt emotion. By day, Nyerick is a science and drama teacher at Monomoy Middle School. 

Kristen Winn, in her first theater performance, plays the efficient owner of Truvy’s Salon where anyone who’s anyone gets her hair done. Winn’s Truvy is welcoming and kindhearted while sheltering her own struggles with a husband who only watches TV and a son always on his motorcycle.

Sheila Jamieson returns to the CDG stage as the classy Clairee, a lonely mayor’s wife who buys a radio station and plans a trip to New York while offering wisdom and cookie tins. What a joy to meet Sheila’s grandchildren as audience members and loving her performance.

Nicole Gardner plays young Annelle hiding her own sadness as a washashore employee who learns to be a great beautician and then seeks the beauty of prayer and helping others. Gardner is a double major at Muhlenburg College.

Julia Randall plays Ouiser with edgy attitude. “I don’t see plays because I can get a nap at home.” She’s been in a bad mood for 40 years, until she rediscovers Owen and delivering tomatoes from the farm. And the Ticks is her real-life band! Randall teaches at Monomoy Middle School.

Lee Lacroix becomes Shelby’s mother M’Lynn in her first performance onstage in 40 years. Lacroix’s M’Lynn teaches the audience lessons in motherly love and defines the most precious moments of birth, micromanaging her daughter’s choices, gifting more of herself than one can possibly imagine in a beautiful performance. By day Lacroix is a speech pathologist.

Director Anna Marie Johansen also designed the set with a dedicated all-volunteer cast and crew. Scott Hamilton (light design) and Don Howell (sound design) take the audience through the seasons; Christmas was especially fun.

Robert Harling’s script and movie screenplay is so emotionally powerful, written from his heart. Shelby the bride, whose doctor strongly advised never to conceive due to the probability of diabetic complications gravely damaging her own health, is based on his own sister who died shortly before Harling completed the original play and film script.

“Steel Magnolias” speaks of the strong bonds of female friendship. On a personal note, several friends and I have experienced loss and even organ transplant giving and receiving. Thank you to the actresses, director, and production crew for sharing “Steel Magnolias” at the CDG with so many of us ladies in the audience finding comfort and joy in pink blossoming performances and storytelling close to our hearts. “Can I have this dance for the rest of my life?” played in the background and just happened to be the last song ever danced by my dear friend and her late husband.


DETAILS:

“Steel Magnolias”

At the Chatham Drama Guild, Crowell Road, Chatham

Though June 25

Information and reservations: 508-945-0510, www.chatdramaguild.org