How many times have you heard the book is better than the movie? In this case, the stage play of “Steel Magnolias,” an Anderson University production, outshines the 1989 film. The play is the story of six women in the small Louisiana town of Chinquapin and how their lives intertwine. All the scenes take place in the hair salon run by a wisecracking Truvy Jones (Aziza Jones). Gossip is the catalyst that moves this play along, thankfully at a better pace than the movie. The lines are delivered at a machine gun pace that no camera could keep up with as the audience gets to eavesdrop on the joys, laughter, jokes, and pain of the lives of these six women.
It’s the delivery of these lines and the staging of the play in the beauty parlor that make it so much more successful than the movie. (By the way, the 1987 play received better reviews than the movie).
The main plot deals with the life of Shelby Eatenton (Bethany Kester) and her struggles for happiness. The play opens on Shelby’s wedding day. It’s a two-act play with four scenes. Each scene moves the audience to a different time period in Shelby’s life.
Shelby was advised not to have children for medical reasons but marries, gets pregnant and has the baby despite the constant desire of her mother, M’Lynn Eatenton (Maria Michelle), to keep her daughter safe.
Truvy has hired a new girl, Annelle Dupuy (Abby Robinson), who has a mysterious past and an uncertain future. Annelle, after not quite fitting in, eventually becomes one of the women. By the last scene Annelle is able to trade jobs with matronly clients Ousier Bordeaux (Yaris Navarro) and Clairee Belcher (Bethany Kester).
It’s a comedy that will keep even those who have seen the movie laughing. With humorous lines such as “I bet he’s the kind of gentleman who will take the dishes out of the sink before he pees in it,” or M’Lynn’s description of the pink color scheme her daughter chose for the wedding sanctuary, “It looks like someone has hosed it down with Pepto Bismol,” it’s hard to not chuckle even if you’ve heard the lines before. No group of women could keep up the comedic pace of one-liners that these women do, but that’s what makes it so fun to watch and hear.
Director Nicole Reynolds found a perfect fit for Annelle, who made her acting debut with this Anderson University production. She delivers a convincing performance of the shy, reserved woman who transforms herself several times into a stronger, more self-aware being.
Navarro as Ousier convinces the audience of her advanced years not only through her body language but through her delivery of lines filled with cuts, barbs and an overall gloomy outlook on life. She totters, taking small deliberate steps the way someone older might and is slightly bent over by age, work and worry.
Audiences shouldn’t be too distracted by the play’s shortcomings, which have more to do with technical limitations than any fault of the play or its staff. Shelby’s mom and Clairee just don’t look old enough, but it’s got to be a difficult task to make 20-something actresses look 30 years or more older than they are.
Shelby’s father is outside shooting off a gun to scare birds out of the trees for her wedding day. The gunfire sound effects fall short.
In all, anyone going to the AU production will be able to laugh and maybe even cry at the ending. It’s a comedy that on stage plays out better than on the silver screen. “Steel Magnolias” will be presented in Byrum Hall at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and Oct. 9 to 11. Tickets for seniors and students are $5 and $10 for adults. For information call 765-641-4351.
— Writer Avon Waters is a reporter for the Anderson Herald-Bulletin. This play review was reprinted with permission.