Quote of the Day: Whether you live in the Midwest or the South or anywhere in between, working through pain with humor and laughter is pretty universal. We identify with Truvy when she says, “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.” Lisa Rothe, Director of the Guthrie Theater’s production of Steel Magnolias, written by Robert Harling. I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I’ve used that Truvy quote many times in my life. (I played Truvy in a community theater production in Alexandria, MN a number of years ago. It remains one of my favorite roles, and plays.)
In the post-play discussion following the performance I attended on Sunday, Nov. 3, the moderator asked us what one word or phrase comes to mind as we processed this show. I shouted out, “Sisterhood!” It was loud and clear in my mind. I felt it when I was in a local cast. I felt it when I saw a recent local production, and I felt it again as I watched this amazing cast bring it to life. The women who came out for the discussion grabbed onto that word and it sparked the discussion. What better setting than a beauty shop to show the power of relationships we women experience. They are there for the joys and celebrations, the triumphs and the tears.
Shelby (Nicole King) is young, in love, and wants to have a family. She’s also diabetic, fragile, and strong-willed. She and her mother have a tight bond. Her mother, M’Lynn (Melissa Maxwell), is also strong, opinionated, and fierce as a bear when it comes to her daughter. The mother-daughter dynamic between these two actors felt so real, like they were actually related. They know how to get under each other’s skin, to poke, to prod, to rile each other up, and to love with devotion.
The opening scene is in Truvy’s (Austene Van) beauty salon in Chinquapin, Louisiana, in the 1980’s. She’s in the process of hiring Annelle (Adelin Phelps) who “may or may not be married to someone who make or may not be a dangerous criminal.” Annelle (Adelin) is so funny, without really meaning to be. Also, she has to learn how to do hair styles in the heat of the moment, again Annelle (and Adelin)! The Guthrie brought in hair stylists to consult with the actors. I remember doing the same when I played Truvy. I am now skilled at rolling and unrolling hair, and back-combing! The actors always have something to do on stage! Just like in a real life salon. And, the banter that goes on between washes and up-dos is the script of life.
Clairee (Amy Van Nostrand) arrives early for her appointment. She’s still grieving the loss of her husband and wondering what the next Act of her life will look like. She butts heads with the town’s favorite cranky old lady Ouiser (played by Twin Cities’ favorite star Sally Wingert). Oh, the digs and jabs that make us chuckle – “Reach out to Ouiser and you’ll bring back a bloody stump!” Clairee declares, and the firm belief that she’d be the first one to give you pitch fork out of her own garden to help you ward off the devil, if he came to visit. I love these women, and this play, like they were my own sisters, in my own Sisterhood. And, that’s what makes Steel Magnolias a classic, why the houses will fill with women, and men, who want to experience that Sisterhood, to sit in the audience like we’re the next to jump into Truvy’s or Annelle’s chair, get our hair combed and styled, and our emotions validated and lives smoothed out for a while.
The advantage that the Big G (Guthrie Theater) has over small town local productions is their budget for set, lighting, and sound. My first impression of the set (by Narelle Sissons) was, “Wow.” I thought, are they doing some scenes outside of the salon? All the sets that I’ve seen are simulated beauty salons, the two chairs, tables or carts for the supplies, table, chairs, magazine, the accouterments of this type of establishment. This set looked like an actual car port turned into a shop, which Truvy refers to in her line, “He enclosed this car port so I could support him.” It gave us a sense of time and place. Stage hands, and actors, placed decorations out according to the time of year. The ladies had an obvious entrance and exit. We had the sense of the world beyond, and other family members, even though we never saw them. The lighting (Cat Tate Starmer) enhanced that mood and gave us focus, and the sound (Jane Shaw) which is pivotal in several scenes came across loud and clear! The costumes (by Kara Harmon, who also assisted in costumes for one of my favorite TV shows, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel!), left me nostalgic, as I am an 80’s girl. (Those jeans! I think they found them in the closet of my childhood home!) All those loud colors and shoulder pads! Everything was spot on.
You can see this stellar cast and creative team bring this endearing story to life at The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, MN through Dec. 15, 2019.
One comment from Sally Wingert stuck out from the Post-Play Discussion. “The blessing of this profession is the coming together quickly as a community. We need to form relationships and empathy in a short amount of time and be emotionally available to one another.” Director Lisa Rothe created an environment where all the women felt safe and bonded with one another. And, it showed in this performance!
And, now, I’ll be making an appointment at my favorite beauty salon with my awesome stylist Aubrey, who has been there for me in life’s ups and downs. I could use a good chat, witty salon banter, and a good hair day!
Go. Create. Inspire!
Journaling Prompt: Write about your hairstyles, your stylist, and your own Sisterhood.