25 February 2014
A salon of their own
Six women meet in a beauty salon in a town in Louisiana. Truvy has had her garage converted to the salon. Her slogan is "There is no such thing as natural beauty " (it's good for business). She's in a little town. Annelle is doing Truvy's hair as the show begins, and she gets the job as Truvy's offsider. Annelle's quiet and needs a job. Daughter Shelby is getting married that day. Mother M'Lynn also comes to prepare for the wedding. There are a few stories - one of Annelle, which is oddly undeveloped, and mostly the story of Shelby - which wend through four scenes spread over a few years. There's sadness, intimacy, female friendship and support. There's also good humour, occasional short tempers, some fear and hope and discovery and most of all, quipping. These are friends but not too conspicuously. It's a small town. The wealthy Clairee eventually owns a radio station and expands her horizons with travel to NYC then Paris. Shelby and M'Lynn go through tragedy. Annelle is born again and she eventually finds accord with her more mainstream friends. I'd heard of the work from the movie with that mega cast - Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine, Daryl Hannah, Olympia Dukakis and Julia Roberts - but I hadn't seen it. The script was written by a man, living in NYC, following the death of his sister with diabetes, in just 10 days. The play was a buzz off Broadway and within a few years was filmed on location in the original town, Natchitoches. Here, Canberra Rep did it, and the Canberra Times gave it a great review, so we went. What thoughts? It's a pleasant drama with some depth and emotional resonances, so it's satisfying and presentable. I felt this was very, very well acted. The program gave a long list of acronyms and achievements, NIDA, WAAPA, STC, Q, Belvoir, All Saints, TV and more. Strangely, we are the salon's mirror and the cast often gazes at the audience. The accents were a test at first, and occasionally relaxed into Aussie nasal, but we got used to it soon enough. There are quips throughout, but not too many belly laughs from an Aussie audience. I'm not sure it's our style. This is wisecracking southern USA, somewhat parochial but nonetheless wise. I imagine our rural or smallish town life may be the similar. This is not Chicago or NYC or even Canberra but neither is it hick. This is women's wisdom, earthy, and wise and supportive. Author Robert Best was interviewed and spoke of steel magnolias as beauty made in very strong stuff. And of southern women as "while gorgeous, they are fragile and bruise easily" but with "a tensile strength stronger than anything [he] could muster". I understand. These are wise but wisecracking women and impressive. As was the Rep performance.
Steel Magnolias was performed for Canberra Rep by Karen Vickery (M'Lynn), Nell Shipley (Shelby), Amy Dunham (Annelle), Judi Crane (Ouiser), Liz Bradley (Clairee) and Rose Braybrook (Truvy) under Jordan Best (director).