steel magnoliasGateway Theatre
Robert Harling's Steel Magnolias

Dates and Venue 6 - 22 October 2011 | Gateway Theatre, 6500 Gilbert Rd., Richmond, BC

Reviewer Ed Farolan

Fine acting, directing and scenic design is how I'd describe Gateway's season opener. The warm applause during curtain call proved the successful delivery of Harling's play which is considered as one of the best modern classics in drama today.

The play takes place in Chinquapin, Louisiana at Truvy’s beauty parlour, and this tragi-comedy unfolds as six women talk about their personal lives as they get their hair done. Truvy (Dolores Drake) hires an assistant, Annelle (Sarah Carle) who isn’t sure if she’s married or not, but won’t let that get in the way of doing her job. She eventually marries and becomes a born-again Christian.

The parlour clients are M’Lynn (Erin Ormond), a social worker and eventually an administrator of a mental hospital, a caring mother who does all she can for her daughter Shelby (Susan Coodin) who is diabetic and later delivers a premature baby. Ouiser (Anna Hagan), an eccentric millionaire, talks about her dead-beat ex-husbands and claims that she has been in a "bad mood for forty years.” Clairee (Norma Bowen), a radio announcer, bickers with Ouiser all the time, to the delight of the audience.

The theme of "steel" refers to these six southern belles with backbones of steel, and throughout the play, rely on each other through thick and thin. Harling's play is funny, and at the same time, heartbreaking, especially with the good-natured Shelby whose tragedy lends sadness to the story.

The last scene was very moving, and I noticed teary eyes among some members of the audience when Ormond opens up her sorrow to her parlour friends. She did a fantastic job with her lines. But despite the tragic overtones in this scene, the story ends in laughter. Harling maintains a light note when the curtain falls. All throughout the play, his wit, the punch lines, the humour --all these give this drama that certain quality that makes it a classic.

Cavendish, a seasoned actress herself is well- known for her portrayal of comic characters. She delivered Harling's play with the directorial professionalism and expeience of her 35 years of work in Theatre. The actresses who are seasoned professionals themselves delivered their lines and their characters as Harling intended. Even the American southern accent was near perfection.

Drew Facey's design was very impressive, with actual parlour chairs in place. Accolades to Gateway and Chemainus Theatre for this marvelous production.

© 2011 Ed Farolan