‘Steel Magnolias’ a whirlwind of emotions

Photo: Elizabeth Mandel

Don’t be deceived by the light and fluffy interactions between a group of women who convene for haircuts and manicures at Truvy’s beauty salon in small-town Chinquapin, La.

There are powerful emotions pulsing beneath the snipping of hair scissors, the hum of hair dryers and the painting of nail polish as the women exchange gossip, hide and then share their feelings, endure the slings and arrows of life, and celebrate and mourn together.

South Valley Civic Theatre’s production of “Steel Magnolias,” Robert Harling’s 1987 tribute to a sister who died from complications of diabetes, took a few scenes to get into gear on opening night, but by the climactic close, the cast, well directed by Bill Tindall and Tiffany Goller, is firing on all cylinders.

That is particularly true of Myra Kaelin as M’Lynn Eatenton, the doyenne of Chinquapin, whose relationship with her diabetic daughter Shelby (Becca Snook), forms the centerpiece of the play. Kaelin gives full rein to her maternal pain when Shelby, defying her doctor’s advice that she not become pregnant, loses her battle with the disease that has defined her life.

M’Lynn’s agony is shared by her supportive circle at the salon, led by the vivacious Truvy (a sassy and delightful Adrianne Wilkinson), the former mayor’s wife Clairee (a solid and grounding Marion Pintello), crabby neighborhood eccentric Ouiser (a snappy and funny Suzi Sellers), and novice hairstylist Annelle (who undergoes a dramatic transformation from abandoned wife to party girl to born-again Christian), convincingly portrayed by Marisa Lopes.

There’s a nice bit of undercurrent in the relationship between the overprotective M’Lynn and Shelby, who is eager to get out from under her mother’s supervision and truly grow up. The first act is set as the women prepare for Shelby’s wedding, and the tension between the mother and daughter is well executed by Kaelin and Snook, who might be a shade young for the role but captures a certain note of defiance in the set of her jaw.

Directors Tindall and Goller also designed the set for the show, which takes place entirely within the confines of Truvy’s, a garage converted into a two-station salon. Overstuffed sofas and chairs give the room a sense of the kind of homey, comfortable ease where a group of friends spend time together.

Terri Miles’ costumes are well suited to the show, from Truvy’s leopard-print pants and bedazzled jacket to the all-pink, all the time ensembles favored by Shelby (whose wedding colors are “bashful” and “blush”).

“Steel Magnolias” continues through Dec. 7 at South Valley Civic Theatre in the Morgan Hill Community Playhouse, 17090 Monterey Road, Morgan Hill. Tickets range from $18 to $28. To purchase tickets, visit www.svct.org or call (408) 842-SHOW.

Susan Rife
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About Susan Rife
Lover of arts & books; ukulele learner; therapeutic knitter; long-distance runner. Former Arts and Books Editor at Herald-Tribune.