Full disclosure, this review is based on my experience sitting through a rehearsal performance of 2nd Street Theatre's Steel Magnolias, when there was still a whole week to go before the play was set to open, where a photographer buzzed around on stage for the first half an hour of the show, chasing the actors like persistent flies at a BBQ, and there was still ongoing discussion about how to hang the set curtains. Yet based on said performance I believe the audience at the play's opening night, and every night thereafter, are in for a treat to rival any of the desserts at Truvy's beauty parlor.
The performances of the Steel Magnolias cast shone fiercely through under the expert direction of Juliah Ramaker. Every member kept up his or her character flawlessly despite the distractions, so much so, in fact, that even the costume changes played out like fascinating little sketches. They delivered, as an ensemble, an outstandingly powerful presence. A play like Steel Magnolias, although a classic and the basis of a much-loved film, could in less talented hands have turned out a mere trifle, or an overblown melodrama. But in the hands of 2nd Street Theatre it is a sensitive, quietly moving drama highlighted by well-timed, expertly dispensed comedy.
It's the story of a group of Louisiana ladies who gather at their local salon to discuss everything and anything from recipes and the antics of their husbands to the celebrations and tragedies of their lives. The highs and lows play out in a lovingly conceived 1980s beauty parlor. The ladies are soft and spiky, serious and silly, like, well, real people - these are no Sex And The City-like female types - they each have their distinctive traits. Truvy is romantic, Ouiser is jaded, but as their individual plots unfold, their personalities exchange, flip and reverse.
The play relies on the performances colliding and complimenting and it is here that the 2nd Street Theatre cast truly excels. Their interchanges are so effervescent and easygoing, they'll have you hanging on their every word from the start - as though you yourself are right there with them in the salon, waiting your turn in the hairdresser's chair.
Jenn Copsey plays Shelby, and is brilliant as the defiant daughter of Deborah Feffer's fretful M'Lynn. Together they create an absorbing central dynamic, having perfected the muttered asides and knowing glances of a mother-daughter relationship. Susan Benson gets some hilarious one-liners as confident, cheeky businesswoman Clariee Belcher and sends them out with aplomb, while Lynn Talbot plays the sweet and sour of grouchy Ouiser Boudreaux with dexterity.
Rickey Minder has the transformation of Annelle from timid waif to willful Baptist convert down to a seamless evolution of subtle mannerisms. As the owner of Truvy's Beauty Parlour and the lynchpin of the group, Ellen Valway provides a strong foundation to the ensemble and an endearingly ditsy character.
Steel Magnolias will make you laugh, it'll make you cry, and it'll make a perfectly lovely night out with your own gang of friends.
2nd Street Theatre, August 20 - September 5, Wednesdays through Saturdays 8pm, Sundays 3pm. Opening night champagne and dessert reception at 7pm. $18/adults, $16/students and seniors.