Strong Acting, Serious Themes and Amusing One-Liners Make ‘Steel Magnolias’ a Winner at Theatre Palisades

The play takes place in Truvy’s home beauty parlor with (left to right) Grace O’Neill, Courtney Shaffer, Catherine Rahm and Jessica Hogan.
Photo: Joy Daunis

Take a trip to Cinquanpin, Louisiana, and stop by Truvy Jones’ in-home beauty parlor. If you can’t make that trip, go see “Steel Magnolias” at Pierson Playhouse, 941 Temescal Canyon Rd., through February 16. You won’t be disappointed with this Theatre Palisades production.

Author Robert Harling wrote “Steel Magnolias,” which premiered in 1987 and was released as a film in 1989, starring Sally Fields, Dolly Parton, Daryl Hannah, Olympia Dukakis and Julia Roberts.

I never saw the original movie, so I can’t compare the film and stage actors, but I was extremely pleased–and impressed–by the quality of the women and the production at our local theater on Friday night.

The direction by Brandon Ferrucciois is good – and costume designer June Lissandrello, who always has excellent costumes, outdid herself this time.

It’s an amazing night, not only because of the jokes, the one-liners that come from the characters, but also because the hair and the nails are done on stage as we watch. All four scenes take place in the salon.

This is a play of life and laughter – of the way women support one another and the way they share deepest secrets. It is about a sisterhood of strength that comes out of the ability to laugh, to cry and then to get out of bed the next day and continue living.

Movie critic Roger Ebert wrote in 1989, “’Steel Magnolias’ is essentially a series of comic one-liners leading up to a teary tragedy, but let it be said that the one-liners are mostly funny.”

This is a fun evening, and the audience laughed at the zingers throughout the performance. When Ouiser (Sherry Coon) is told she should get counseling after she goes into tirade, she responds: “I’m not crazy, I’ve just been in a very bad mood for 40 years.” Coon, who has directed and acted in other parts at Theatre Palisades, owns this role. She was great fun to watch.

The actresses are all strong and the characters fully developed.

Truyv (Courtney Shaffer), who takes beauty seriously and knows the perfect way to accessorize, hires Annelle (Jessica Hogan) to work at her beauty parlor. Annelle, who after losing a deadbeat husband becomes a born-again Christian, nearly steals the show with her simplicity. After being hired she promises “Miss Truvy, I promise that my personal tragedy will not interfere with my ability to do good hair.”

Playing M’Lynn is Maria O’Connor, who is a talented actress. Her daughter Shelby is played by Grace O’Neill. Their bond and the individual issues the characters are working on, were successful: There were tears flowing on opening night.

Not to be forgotten in this ensemble piece is Catherine Rahm as Clairee who is wonderful. When Truvy comments that someone is playing hard to get, Clairee responds “At her age, she should be playin’ beat the clock.”

Harling wrote this play based on his sister’s life. Just like Shelby in the play, his sister had Type 1 diabetes, married, had a child against doctor’s wishes, needed dialysis and then a kidney transplant. She received the kidney from her mother, but ultimately the transplant fails.

Throughout Shelby’s journey and the play, the women meet in the salon not just to have hair done, but for friendship and support.

Harling originally wrote the story as a way of coping with grief and also remembering his sister.

In a 2017 Country Living article ( “The Story Behind Steel Magnolias, 30 Years Later”), Harling said, “It was much grimmer than I portrayed it in the play. Nobody could sit through the actual health dilemmas that my sister went through. It was so powerful to me because here was this incredibly strong woman—my mother—who had really fought Susan when she said she was going to try to have a baby. And now here was Susan having to turn back to her and say, ‘Mama, you need to help me now.’ When she needed a kidney, we were all tested to see if we were matches, but my mom basically said the buck stops here, and that’s how it was.”

Often plays date themselves, but not in this case. This is an honest mother-daughter story, buoyed by friendship and it will always be current. If you saw the movie or if you didn’t, this play, produced by Martha Hunter and Sherman Wayne, is well worth seeing. The laughs, the friendship and the story will stick with you once you’re well out of the theatre.

Do not be an “Ouiser,” who in the play says“I do not see plays, because I can nap at home for free. And I don’t see movies ’cause they’re trash, and they got nothin’ but naked people in ’em! And I don’t read books, ’cause if they’re any good, they’re gonna make ’em into a miniseries.”

Tickets are $22 for adults and $20 for seniors and students. Call (310) 454-1970 or visit: theatrepalisdes.com.

(Left to right) Sherry Coon and Jessica Hogan share barbs while Maria O’Connor, who plays M’Lynne, listens while having her hair done in ‘Steel Magnolias.’
Photo: Joy Daunis

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