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Everything about 'Magnolias' is superb

Brenda Sue Cowley as Annelle, left, and Pamela Dunlap as Clairee in PTC's "Steel Magnolias."
Brenda Sue Cowley as Annelle, left, and Pamela Dunlap as Clairee in PTC's "Steel Magnolias."
Robert Clayton

STEEL MAGNOLIAS, Pioneer Theatre Company, University of Utah, through Jan. 29 (581-6961). Running time: two hours, 20 minutes (one intermission).

Oh, the things that transpire behind the front door of Truvy's Beauti-Rama Beauty Salon (which, despite the floral drapes and poster-size glamour shots of Hollywood stars, still bears the traces of a former carport).

The women who frequent this hallowed space — owner Truvy, newly hired employee Annelle and four regular clients — let down their hair more than they have it coiffed.

Written by Robert Harling as a tribute to the strong-willed Southern women he grew up around, these are not mere, flowery magnolias. They have backbones of steel, and they pull together when the chips (and the curlers) are down.

Guest director John Going, making his 12th annual directorial visit to PTC, has a cast that's as sharp as the scissors Truvy and Annelle use to style their customers' locks.

Kathryn Rossetter is great as Truvy, whose credo is "There's no such thing as natural beauty," and Brenda Sue Cowley is also terrific as Annelle, who shows that you're never too young to have a "past."

The first scene — a Saturday in April when M'Lynn (Joyce Cohen) and Shelby (Anne Bowles) are in the center of excitement surrounding Shelby's wedding that afternoon — introduces us to a cross-section of ladies in the small Louisiana town. Harling's humorous, biting dialogue slices through the mother-daughter tension.

Among the first to come bustling in is Clairee (Pamela Dunlap), widow of the town's recently deceased mayor. She misses the whirlwind of being a mayor's wife.

But the beauty shop gossip kicks into high gear when the feisty Ouiser (Marni Nixon) storms in.

"Don't try to get on my good side," she warns the others, "I don't have one!"

As the seasons (and the scenes) change, the shifts are keyed to events in newlywed Shelby's life — announcing her risky pregnancy just before Christmas . . . the fears of a kidney transplant 18 months later . . . her death just a few months later.

Through it all, there is "laughter through the tears" (which Truvy says is her favorite emotion).

The entire cast is superb, as are Bill Clarke's delightfully tacky beauty parlor and Brenda Van der Weil's 1980s costuming.

Sensitivity rating: Some mild, PG-oriented profanity.