Steel Magnolias at La Mirada Playhouse

Those out there who are only familiar with Robert Harling’s film version of his 1987 Off-Broadway hit, Steel Magnolias are missing out on a gem of a play. For one thing, its strength lies in larger-than-life women and they fill the stage to a marvelous degree.

The six southern women who gather at Truvy’s (Christa Jackson) Beauty Shop – a room addition to her house – are free to complain about their husbands and dish out the current town gossip. Truvy’s new assistant, Annelle (Emma Fassler), who’s only 19 years old, provides much of that gossip, with her mysterious past and elusive husband who may or may not be a wanted criminal.

But in fact, not very much happens in this quiet Louisiana town of Chinquapin. Focus shifts from Annelle to Shelby (Amy Sloan) when she enters the shop to get her hair done for her wedding later that day. She is a diabetic who learns she can’t get pregnant and is opting for adoption. Also in the group of women are Ouiser (Michael Learned), the curmudgeon with a heart of gold and Clairee (Rosina Reynolds) a rich widow.

If there were a star of the show in this ensemble piece, it would be Cathy Rigby as Shelby’s tough mother, M’Lynn. But not to take away from her performance, the success of the play and of this production lies in the excellent cast assembled at La Mirada Playhouse. Harling’s ear for language is even more of a plus for the stage and there are great one liners and witty repartee. At the same time, it is this very asset that sometimes holds the play back. Some of the banter that is peppered throughout the play (and most noticeably in the Second Act) stalls the pacing – but not for too long. It is a drama that is infused with funny moments, after all, and this production wisely avoids the melodrama that can derail such a play.

Costumes and sets evoke the 80’s (the time in which the play is set) without being too kitschy or over the top, but the music seems out of place in this world that the playwright has created.  These particular songs that play through the blackouts are probably not the kinds of songs these women would have been listening to. Still, these six steel magnolias are a force to be reckoned with, and the minor flaws in the production don’t stop them from coming to full life.

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About Obed Medina
Obed received his BA in Creative Writing from the University of California at Riverside. He has freelanced and volunteered at various theatre companies in Los Angeles since 2002. He launched his own workshop theatre company in 2008 and has produced six original one-act plays and one Off-Broadway hit. Currently, he is living in Ashland, Oregon working on his writing and founder of Collaborative Theatre Project.

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