Weston’s nostalgic ‘Steel Magnolias:’ a slow start, a rousing finish

Set designer Regina Garcia’s 1980s small-town hair salon for Weston Theater Company’s current production ‘Steel Magnolias.’ Click any photo to launch the gallery. All photos by Hubert Schriebl

By Bob Behr
©2022 Telegraph Publishing LLC

As if a time capsule had plopped down on Weston’s Village Green — suddenly, it’s the 1980s in Louisiana and we’re in a small-town beauty salon, complete with a wallphone, boombox, Mr. Coffee, helmet hairdryers, and lots and lots of hairspray.

Contemporary audiences might need to work hard to settle into the pace and sensibility of Truvy’s salon in Chinquapin, Louisiana. Truvy’s is a world apart from the thorny issues of the 2020s. And even then, once you make the leap, you’ll land in a sugar-coated version of the 1980s — for example, Chinquapin seems to be a Southern town where racial harmony reigns.

And therein lie the strengths and weaknesses of playwright Robert Harling’s beloved story of six women who forge deep bonds with each other while getting their hair done.

Reviewing pictures, from left, Dottie Stanley as Ouiser, Nyla Sostre as Annelle, Thursday Farrar as Clairee, Lexi Lapp as Shelby and Almeria Campbell as Truvy.

The women of Steel Magnolias spend every Saturday morning together. In the first scene, two — Shelby and her mother M’Lynn — are getting ready for Shelby’s wedding later that day. Two other customers, Clairee and Ouiser, are independent, outspoken older women who were once married and are now on their own.

Salon owner Truvy and her new assistant Annelle work the room in more ways than one. Truvy and Annelle keep the gossip flowing, smooth over disputes and make space when each woman is ready to tell her story.

Steel Magnolias depicts four Saturday mornings across a roughly two-year period during which the women at the salon become increasingly focused on Shelby’s not-very-wise determination to get pregnant despite the life-threatening risks she faces.

Early on, before Shelby’s situation gains dramatic traction, the play drags. Characters are seated or standing still; dialogue sends out a dated, disinterested vibe; and, unlike the second half of the play — which abounds with funny one-liners — jokes are few. In the first scenes on opening night, the actors did not seem comfortable with themselves (or with each other) and, in a couple of instances, lines of dialogue or key words were missed.

Ouiser, Annelle and Clairee settle down for serious gossip at Truvy’s Salon.

After intermission, we’re treated to something entirely different. Shelby’s story becomes more urgent and the other characters make baby steps in their lives. We finally see steel in the Southern magnolias inhabiting Truvy’s salon. Dialogue starts popping like popcorn. Playwright Harling’s language here is rich with wit and powerful emotion.

In the closing moments, Director Sarah Elizabeth Wansley’s actors transform into a true ensemble — and we see why a whole generation of theater-goers and film fans hold Steel Magnolias dear.

Notable performances in this production include Thursday Farrar’s Clairee, one of those off-putting (at least at first) characters who will finally grow on you; Dottie Stanley’s cantankerous Ouiser (“I’m not crazy, I’ve just been in a bad mood for 40 years.”); and Nyla Sostre as Annelle, the nervous and frightened salon assistant.

Sostre, who has a terrific singing voice and was a Hamilton cast member on Broadway for three years, also serves as this production’s entr’acte performer, singing segments of hits like “True Colors” and “Landslide” (songs that echo the play’s dramatic themes), while accompanying herself on the guitar.

Cast members Lexi Lapp as Shelby, Amy Van Nostrand as M’Lynn, and Almeria Campbell as Truvy also make fine contributions. And, set designer Regina Garcia and costume designer Kathleen Geldard give Truvy’s salon and its devotees the look of real people in a real place.

Steel Magnolias continues through Sunday, Sept. 4. Performances are 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; matinees are 2 p.m. on Wednesday and Saturday and 3 p.m. on Sunday. Adult tickets range from $50 to $74. “Pick Your Price” subscription tickets start at $39. For more information or for tickets, click here, or call 802-824-5288.

Discounts are available for students, veterans and Vermont residents. Performances of Steel Magnolias are at The Playhouse, 12 Park St., located across from Weston’s Green. All patrons are required to wear a mask while indoors and must show proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test taken within 48 hours upon arrival. Content advisory: this production contains loud sounds.

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About the Author: Andover resident Bob Behr is a retired English teacher and non-profit fundraiser. He has written about theater, food and local culture for community newspapers in Philadelphia and Vermont.

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