Thunder Bay Theatre still has one week remaining for audiences to catch a performance of its styled and sprayed comedy-drama, "Steel Magnolias." Those who like a show with heart and humor should take advantage of this small window of opportunity.
The six women TBT Artistic Director J.R. Rodriguez cast in the show were perfectly suited to their respective roles. Their friendship in real life translated easily onto the stage, where their characters share life's ups and downs, laughter and sarcasm, and even a tragedy or two.
Written by Robert Harling to channel his grief over his sister's death, "Steel Magnolias" opens on the wedding day of Shelby Eatenton. Everyone's at the salon getting ready for the big day when the bride-to-be, a diabetic, goes into insulin shock. It is a sign of problems to come, and what follows is roughly two years of their mutual support of one another.
All of the action takes place in a 1980s-era beauty parlor situated in small town Louisiana. Truvy, the salon owner, is a fount of one-liner wisdom. Nickie Hilton, a veteran TBT core company member, turns in another great performance as the brassy but good-hearted Truvy. It is she who provides the safe gossipy space that serves as a home away from home for the women.
Fellow company member Kendra McInerney also turns in another outstanding performance as the bubbly, headstrong Shelby. With a fondness for pink and a desire to have a baby despite dire warnings not to from her physician, Shelby receives all the love and support of their others, including her mother with whom she has a testy though loving relationship.
Core company member Suni Travis depicts Shelby's mother, M'Lynn Eatenton. She's quite believable as the pragmatic mother-of-the-bride. Travis also delivers the most poignant and emotional lines in the play, successfully making the audience believe and share in her pain.
Time after time, actress Terry Carlson has taken on comedic roles for the stage that audiences lap up and love. Her Ouiser is no exception. Carlson adeptly delivers her character's sharp-tongued barbs and conveys her cantankerous, eccentric personality. Simply put, she makes everyone laugh and laugh a lot.
Carol Rundell, yet another seasoned performer, takes on the persona of Clairee, a gentile Southern widow who oozes grace and charm, while also dishing out a fair supply of sass and quick wit. Like the other's in the show, Rundell does a wonderful job with her part.
So too, does Emily Szatkowski as Annelle, the new hairstylist hired by Truvy to help out at the salon. Szatkowski makes it so easy to see her character as the timid, nervous and naive young thing abandoned by her husband and more than a little obsessed with religion.
TBT received assistance with set design and set dressing from Traci and Jeff Papin, who helped the place to look like a real beauty shop. Technical Director Derek Spack also used the theatre's lighting and somewhat limited sound capabilities to best advantage.
If there was anything to nitpick about, it would have to be a few of the details such as Annelle's "baby bump" and Shelby's updo for her wedding both could have looked a little more authentic.
The show, sometimes funny and sometimes sappy, pays homage to Southern female friendships. As the title suggests, the women in "Steel Magnolias" can be both delicate as magnolias and tough as steel. They are mutually supportive of one another even if they gamely get on one another's nerves. They are resilient and resourceful when necessary. And they are brave in the face of life's unfortunate circumstances.
Who among us wouldn't want to have a collection of friends just like them?