by Nettie Farris | International Women’s Day 2019 serves as fitting context for opening night of Clarksville Little Theatre’s production of Steel Magnolias, a dramatic comedy performed by an intergenerational all-female cast. The 1987 play, written by Robert Harling, is perhaps best known by most of us from the 1989 award-winning film featuring a very young Julia Roberts along with an all-star ensemble cast. Competing with these stellar on-screen performances is quite a hurdle; however, in spite of a few stumbles in the delivery of lines, this cast of community volunteers brings these six characters to life onstage.
Similar to Eudora Welty’s classic short story, “Petrified Man,” Steel Magnolias is set entirely in a southern beauty shop. Truvy (Amanda Alexander) owns the shop and has recently hired Annelle (Kaitlyn Fortwengler). Each of four scenes takes place on a Saturday, when Truvy’s regulars include Clairee (Cindy Smith), Ouiser (Jeni DeLancey), and M’Lynn (Beth Northup). In three of the scenes, these regulars are joined by M’Lynn’s daughter Shelby (Madelyn Hagan). The play opens on Shelby’s wedding day.
Also like “Petrified Man,” Steel Magnolias is propelled largely through conversation, and this conversation frequently involves the males in these women’s lives. In effect, these males seem to be characters in their own right, even though we only hear about them. We do hear from them, offstage, in the form of gun shots. Shelby’s father, in preparation for the wedding, is trying to eliminate a flock of birds and their mess. (Later in the scene, the gun is found in M’Lynn’s purse—her attempt to stop the commotion.) These women certainly have lives outside of this beauty shop.
By the end of the play, M’Lynn will reflect on the emotional strength of women, and her use of the word “steel” will combine with our earlier image of magnolias decorating Shelby’s wedding reception, guiding us to the significance of the play’s title.
Housing approximately 250 seats, Clarksville Little Theatre is a wonderful venue for this intimate play. You will laugh—some of the best moments occur in the hilarious banter between Claire and Ouiser. And you will cry.
Steel Magnolias runs March 8, 9, and 10—15, 16, and 17 at Clarksville Little Theatre, 301 E. Montgomery Avenue, Clarksville, IN 47129. Friday and Saturday performances are at 8:00. Sunday performances are at 2:00. For tickets, call (812) 283-6522. clarksvillelittletheatre.org
Nettie Farris is the author of Communion (Accents Publishing, 2013), Fat Crayons (Finishing Line Press, 2015), and the Wendy Bird Poems (Dancing Girl Press). Her poetry has appeared in the Journal of Kentucky Studies, Louisville Review, LEO Weekly, and Appalachian Heritage. Nettie has also performed with the Louisville Ballet.
Nettie is a part-time lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Louisville, and at Indiana University Southeast. She lives in Floyds Knobs, Indiana.