Home > Carol Davis, Theatre > ‘Steel Magnolias’ opens Welk season

‘Steel Magnolias’ opens Welk season

By Carol Davis

ESCONDIDO, California–The Welk Resorts Theatre, which usually presents musicals throughout the year, opened their season recently with Robert Harling’s ‘comedy drama’, Steel Magnolias. Harling, the story goes, lost his younger sister to diabetes and was having trouble coping. Friends advised that he write about his feelings and use the journaling as a coping mechanism. It started as a short story and evolved as a full-length play. In 1987 it opened off Broadway and was subsequently made into a movie.

I’m going to say, just as a guess, that most people remember Steel Magnolias as the movie and in particular Dolly Parton as being the most memorable of the six characters. To be fair it also stared Olympia Dukakis, Shirley MacLaine, Sally Field, Julia Roberts and Daryl Hannah. Roberts receives her first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. I must admit, I never saw the movie; I have however seen the stage play several times.  I have to admit as well that it is a tearjerker so bring tissues. A how many box tissue tearjerker play it is, remains up to your own sensitivities.

The play is set in rural Louisiana (Chinquapin) and the accents are thick. The friendships run deep, the topical comedy is dated (“When it comes to suffering, she’s right up there with Elizabeth Taylor”, “All gay men have track lightin’ and are named Mark, Rick or Steve”, “This is the 60’s … if you can achieve puberty, you can achieve a past”.) and the ending predictable. But that shouldn’t keep you away.

Welk is producing the show in association with La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts and McCoy Rigby Entertainment. Hopefully the name Rigby will ring a bell. Yes THAT Cathy Rigby of Olympic Gymnastics and Peter Pan fame. Rigby, who stands at no more that five feet tall (just guessing) plays the Mom or M’Lynn Eatenton (believe it or not Sally Field played that role in the movie). Amy Sloan, who has to be at least five seven or eight, plays her daughter Shelby. I can identify because one of my daughters is five nine and I’m five two (that’s stretching since I’ve gotten older).

The entire play takes place inside the home of Truvy Jones (Christa Jackson) who has converted her living room into a hair salon. Its pristine looking with shampoo bowls, two hair dryers, a manicure station (on one side of the living room sofa) and a bookcase filled with hair products (for sale, I’m guessing). On one side is the entrance to the house with a staircase leading to bedrooms and on the other side is the kitchen where recipes are tried out and fed to the clients, all locals, and back entrance.

Besides getting one’s hair done, all the local news that’s fit to print and then some is discussed, hashed, digested, problems solved and moved on. Holidays are discussed, marriages, births, deaths, careers and children are like community property and every one of the women patrons in Truvy’s shop knows more about each other’s children than their own spouses do, I’m sure.

The drama that unfolds is centered on Shelby who is about to get married and whom we learn has diabetes. She was told by the doctor not to have children since it would complicate her life. Everyone is in the know on Shelby’s plight. The story line follows Shelby through her marriage to the birth of her son to her kidney failure and on.

Support comes from Truvy whose job is to make everyone welcome in her shop and make sure they leave looking better that when they came in. “We call ourselves glamour technicians”.

Other regulars include Ouiser Boudreaux (Michael Learned is spot on and center stage a classy actor and class act every time she’s on), who is supposed to make everyone shudder but is a pussycat. 

Our own Rosina Reynolds as widow Clairee Belcher former First Lady of the state looking stunning after she changed from the awful looking wig we first meet her in to her own hair. Reynolds, a first class actor finds a happy medium between the younger and older generations as Clairee as she navigates finding common ground with mother and daughter who are at continuously at odds with each other over what’s best for Shelby.

Christa Jackson is top notch as the cool salon owner and Emma Fassler is Annelle Dupuy-Desoto the new beautician on the block with a secret past who turns to Jesus for consolation. She is a bit too affected every time she opens her mouth to be credible.

Brian Kite directs his women with ease, directness and heart, John Iacovelli designed the lovely set and Julie Keens costumes are times appropriate. Patrick Hoyny is responsible for the sound.

Steel Magnolias is here for a limited run through January 24th. For more information about The Welk Resorts Theatre see welktheatresandiego.com

See you at the theatre.

*Steel Magnolia Jewish Trivia: Winona Ryder aka Winona Horowitz was originally offered the role of Shelby.

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