Review: ‘Steel Magnolias’ at The Heritage Players

Steel Magnolias by the Heritage Players opened Friday, March 24, 2017, at the Thomas-Rice Auditorium written by Robert Harling and directed by Kevin James Logan and Katie Sheldon. This production captures the warmth and charm of southern life at the end of the last century through sensitive portrayals by the six actresses.

The setting is a home beauty parlor in a fictional parish in Louisiana.The plot focuses on the relationship of six women of varying ages and their strength that they get from their own souls as well as from their support group of friends.

This play shows the power of women who are often seen as delicate flowers – magnolias – but are as tough as nails – steel. Steel Magnolias were also a euphemism for women’s hair curlers. Like barbershops, beauty parlors are often places where women can talk frankly, and often their stylist acts like a therapist, much like a bartender at the local pub.

Truvy Jones, the owner and town beautician, is no exception. Amy Heller plays the wise-cracking Truvy who not only brings levity to her friends’ lives but also warmth and compassion. Her big heart is shown immediately with the arrival of her new worker, a young woman, Annelle Dupuy-Desoto. Annelle is new in town, and her past is slowly revealed in Act I. Rebecca Clendaniel cleverly unmasks Annelle letting us see the almost broken young woman who life has dealt a bad hand. In Act II Annelle’s character becomes more complex as she lets religion into her life. Clendaniel catches all this in her performance.

However, the real focus of the plot is Shelby Eatenton-Latcherie. The story starts with Shelby’s wedding. Shelby is almost too good to be true. She is pretty, witty, smart, loving, well-liked, and marrying a handsome and successful man – who we never see. (There are no men on stage in the play.)  Shelby is played by Rachael Francis Kelly, who keeps Shelby from becoming too sappy by emphasizing her wit.  Shelby does have one problem – her health.  This hangs as an ominous sign almost from the beginning. Again, Kelly is able to bring out the strength and an internal glow of the young bride.

Her mother is M’Lynn Eatenton, played by Katherine Wenerick-Bell. She is a loving mother and bright and witty like her daughter. She is the rock that holds her family together and manages her impulsive husband. Wenerick-Bell’s scene with her daughter at the start if the second scene in Act I is best at exposing their relationship which is one of love and concern. We see the discouragement of the mother who no longer can control her daughter’s well bring as well as Shelby’s own strong will.

Maribeth Vogel and Anne Hull are cast as the two very smart-alecky friends, Clairee Belcher and Ouiser Boudreaux. Belcher is the deceased mayor’s wife.  She evolves from an unsure widow to an empowered successful woman. Vogel is adept at taking us on this journey. Boudreaux is the town crank, but, through Hull’s keen portrayal, we see she also has the ability to change, even though she admits she is getting on in years. Hull’s entrance toward the end of the first scene brings a new energy to the production as Ouiser exposes all her flaws to the audience.

Co-Directors Logan and Sheldon do a great job with the pacing. They allow the actresses to have that southern charm and a sharp edge as their characters throw out one barb after another.

The set designed by Elizabeth Kanner is perfect in keeping with a home beauty shop. The furnishings are modest and a little worn. We know as soon as the play opens that Truvy has been doing this a long time. However, there are enough decorations in the room to tell us this is not a storefront but someone’s home.

Brad Ranno does a fine job as Lighting and Sound Designer. Emily Luking’s costumes reflect the era, locale and character’s personality. This is also a beauty shop, so a nod to Tommy Malek as Wig and Hair Designer. He keeps this all very believable. Stuart Kazanow is the voice of the DJ.

Don’t miss this funny and warm production of The Heritage Players’ Steel Magnolias. So come on down to Truvy’s shop, where the the ladies there will steal your heart.

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, including an intermission. Intermission.

Steel Magnolias plays through April 9, 2017, at The Heritage Players performing at the Thomas-Rice Auditorium – at Spring Grove Hospital Center- 55 Wade Avenue, in Catonsville, MD. For tickets, buy them at the door or online.


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