‘Steel Magnolias’ delivers lots of emotion

Published 10:32 am Thursday, August 23, 2018

By Deirdre Parker Smith


“Steel Magnolias,” Lee Street theatre’s latest production, delivers the laughs and tears the story is known for, with its familiar troupe of strong Southern women.

Jean Kadela stands out as M’Lynn Eatenton, the solid, worried mother of Shelby, who, at the beginning of the play, is getting married. Kadela has been so good in all her roles with Lee Street, and this one is remarkable for her strength and, yes, steel.

Hard to pick who’s the funniest. It could be Nancy Gaines as Clairee Belcher, or it could be Lillie Oden as Ouiser Boudreaux, the irascible rich lady who’s a thorn in everyone’s side.

Oden has this timing and these gestures that make Ouiser more than a crazy old lady. Plus, she cries real tears. Having her in that character was just fun.

Gaines, well known for her behind-the-scenes work, drops one-liners that keep the audience laughing. She’s the grand dame of the show, and she’s likable, sympathetic and mischievous.

Krissy Browder has the tough job of being Shelby, the weak girl with a strong will. Browder is petite, adding to the feeling that Shelby is fragile, and she delivers her opinions with authority. She’s soft, but she’s more steely, like her mother. Shelby is determined not to let her diabetes change the way she lives. Browder’s Shelby has spunk.

Running the beauty shop is Sharon Foster as Truvy, the woman with the heart of gold who can’t seem to get much use out of her husband. Foster is upbeat, self-assured and unfailingly sweet.

Caitlin Billings, who is Lee Street’s marketing director, takes the role of Annelle Dupuy, a lost soul if ever there was one. But Billings makes you believe Annelle is not totally hopeless, as she sometimes comes across in the movie. This Annelle is confused and scared, but she’s got enough brain cells to know how to survive.

The ladies do make a nice ensemble cast, and it’s too bad that the shows are already sold out. There might be a few tickets for the most recently added performance on Sept. 7.

The story is simple. Shelby, the darling of the town, is getting married and everyone’s in a tizzy over the big day. Her mother M’Lynn, Clairee and Ouiser all meet her at Truvy’s salon for wedding hair, and the gossip and tall tales and advice zing around the room as everyone has an opinion.

Meanwhile, Shelby’s dad, Drum, whom we never see, is outside shooting at birds, and that’s scaring Oiser’s old dog, who’s so nervous he’s lost all his hair. And Drum is shooting magnolia blossoms off a tree that might be Ouiser’s or it might be his.

Shelby’s excited and nervous, and then her blood sugar drops and she becomes a different person, angry and combative, until the ladies manage to get some juice in her.

This triggers lots of worries for M’Lynn, who has spent her life protecting, supporting and loving her daughter. Shelby, on the other hand, feels smothered and rebellious. It sets the scene for what will happen to Shelby in a fairly short amount of time.

Together, the women in the salon are Shelby’s sounding board, her other mothers, her friends.

“Steel Magnolias” is not just about strong women, but also about strong friendships, friendships with history, in a small Louisiana town where everybody knows everything about everybody else, except for the important stuff.

It’s a play about relationships and sacrifice and forgiveness.

Direct Kinda Steenerson has done a good job, with a nice, simple set by Rod Oden, who also did the lighting. Whoever chose the music for the production brought back a lot of memories from the 1980s.

If you do get a chance of see this play or another production of it, you will appreciate how the single-room setting focuses on the people and not the distractions, which the movie tended to do.

Performances continue at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Aug. 30-Sept. 1, and Sept. 6 and 7. A 2:30 p.m. matinee will be performed Sunday.

To see if any tickets remain, call 704-310-5507 or go to www.leestreet.org. Lee Street theatre is at 329 N. Lee St.