What rings true about “Steel Magnolias” is its familiarity. Anyone who’s lived in a small town, in the South, or had their hair done at a beauty shop will see themselves somehow in the story of the women who congregate at Truvy’s salon in small-town Louisiana for hairstyling, gossip and support through the good times and the bad.
The 1987 play, written by Robert Harling, may be more familiar to audiences through its 1989 film version that starred Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Daryl Hannah and Julia Roberts.
But the stage version that preceded the high-octane film was based on the playwright’s own life in Natchitoches, La., and his sister Susan’s death from diabetes.
South Valley Civic Theatre’s production of “Steel Magnolias” opens Nov. 15 for a four-week run. Co-directed by Tiffany Goller and Bill Tindall, the show stars Myra Kaelin as M’Lynn, Becca Snook as her daughter Shelby, Adrianne Wilkinson as salon owner Truvy, Marion Pintello as Clairee, Suzi Sellers as Ouiser and Marisa Lopes as Annelle.
Goller described the playwright as a “Southern genius” whose ability to craft recognizable characters is extraordinary.
“Everybody knows these characters,” said Goller, who’s been a hairdresser for 30 years. “I know these women. I’ve known them my whole life.”
Her co-director grew up in the Mississippi Delta and recognizes the characters as well. But, he said, Harling “does not want these people to be caricatures. The story is very easy to take as a comedy. It can be kind of slapstick-y.”
To head off that tendency, the directors started about two weeks ahead of the usual rehearsal schedule, building camaraderie among their cast, who range in age from mid-teens to senior citizens.
“These are pretty heavy scenes,” Goller said. “You have to be really emotionally connected” to perform them effectively.
Tindall said 25 women had auditioned for the six roles, and he and Goller tried out various combinations to see who best clicked together.
The key role was that of Shelby, a young woman on the eve of marriage who is facing a serious health challenge. Seventeen-year-old Becca Snook plays Shelby, a character she sees as “just me in a different time period. She tries to bring as much happiness into the world as she can.”
Adrianne Wilkinson plays Truvy, owner of the beauty shop and the glue that holds both her employees and customers together.
“Truvy’s kind of the heart of the show,” Wilkinson said. “She’s the reason they’re all together. Also she’s a dreamer—a small-town girl with a big-city heart.”
Wilkinson said she is finding it “really helpful to have a hairdresser for a director. I’ve gotten so into doing the hair I’ve forgotten lines.”
Myra Kaelin plays Shelby’s mother, M’Lynn, and has drawn on the close friendship Snook has with Kaelin’s daughter Lucy, who has appeared in multiple SVCT productions. But the Shelby character is at a different life stage than Snook, which requires Kaelin to adjust her expectations for the stage relationship.
“I try to be available and authentic and not try to force it,” Kaelin said.
“Steel Magnolias” runs Nov. 15-Dec.7 at South Valley Civic Theatre, Morgan Hill Community Playhouse, 17090 Monterey Road, Morgan Hill. Admission is $28, $25 seniors or $18 youth. For tickets, call (408) 842-SHOW or visit www.svct.org.