ASR Theater ~~ Funny and Sweet: TheatreWorks’ “Steel Magnolias”

By Joanne Engelhardt

Make no mistake: The women of Chinquapin parish are as delicate as magnolias – but as tough as steel. That’s why Robert Harling’s play, Steel Magnolias has endured since it first premiered in New York in 1987. Two years later, it was made into a movie featuring a whole lineup of Academy Award-winning women.

Since that time, Harling’s comedy-drama has been a favorite at regional and community theatres all over the country. One reason it has endured so long is because it’s the simple story of a group of women friends who overcome difficulties by supporting each other through thick and thin.

…Director Elizabeth Carter did a commendable job of assembling a companionable multi-cultural cast…

In this case, the setting is Truvy’s home-based hair salon – in fact, according to its owner, Truvy (a somewhat subdued Lisa Strum), it’s the best hair salon in town. That’s why most of the women in town go there weekly to get their hair washed, dried and teased to make it ‘poofy.’

This day is particularly special because both M’Lynn (a marvelously warm Dawn L. Troupe) and her daughter Shelby (a youthfully delightful Jasmine Milan Williams) are coming in to get their hair done for Shelby’s wedding that very afternoon.

Interestingly, Harling based the play on the death of his sister, who had diabetes but decided she wanted to have a baby anyway – despite the risks. She had a child, but then her kidneys failed, and even though Harling’s mother donated one of her own, it failed too and his sister passed away. That’s the sad part, but there’s so much joy, laughter and camaraderie in Steel along the way.

Director Elizabeth Carter did a commendable job of assembling a companionable multi-cultural cast. (Some folks might question her decision to have some of the actors stand facing toward the audience while talking to people behind them. Nancy Carlin as Ouiser does this several times.)

Arguably the real “star” of this Steel production is the wondrous set created by scenic designer Andrea Bechert. That’s one of the advantages of offering a play on the extraordinarily wide stage of the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts. A lot of plays wouldn’t work here, but “Steel” is made for such a stage. The hair salon takes up nearly all of the stage, with just two steps leading up to a second level, going into a room where coffee is brewed—and hot dogs are occasionally cooked! It helps, too, if you like turquoise—because that’s the color du jour!

Cast of “Steel Magnolias” at work. Photo by Kevin Berne.

There’s so much heart here that it’s likely to have some theatregoers shedding a tear or two. Alexandra Lee hits the mark with her portrayal of the newcomer Annelle, who “may or may not be married” and is desperately in need of a job. The rest of the women at Truvy’s all contribute clothes, food and even a place to stay.

The final cast member (Marcia Pizzo as Clairee) is a bit too brisk, but she comes through in the final scene when she grabs her nemesis Ouiser and tells M’Lynn to take out her aggressions on her. Now that’s friendship for sure!

(Note: Several performances will offer open captioning and others will include audio descriptions to assist anyone who is visually impaired. American Sign Language will be available at the 7:30 p.m. June 20 performance. Check the website for more information.)


Aisle Seat Executive Reviewer Joanne Engelhardt is a Peninsula theatre writer and critic. She is a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC). Contact:


ProductionSteel Magnolias
Written by
Robert Harling
Directed byElizabeth Carter
Producing CompanyTheatreWorks Silicon Valley
Production DatesThru July 2nd
Production Address500 Castro St. Mountain View
Telephone(877) 662-8978
Tickets$37- $82
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
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