Review: ‘Steel Magnolias’ is full of laughter and immersive performances

Civic Theatre’s latest production, “Steel Magnolias,” highlights the eternal strength of women through life’s ups and downs. Set in Truvy’s Beauty Salon in late ’80s small-town Louisiana, the set, costumes and characters all reflect the time and place — from teased up hair held by hairspray, to blush pink carpets and strong southern accents.

The storyline is easy to follow: five women gather in Truvy’s beauty salon to get their hair done, of course, but even more so to gossip and keep up as friends. The dialogue is interesting; as they chat, joke and sometimes cry. The plot definitely keeps the audience engaged and there is some emotion, but for the most part this show is not heavy. It’s lighthearted, funny and relatable, and sometimes that’s exactly what you need.

The set of the salon is very impressive. Down to the finest detail, the stage is equipped with all the real pieces of a beauty salon, even model posters on the walls. The women strut around in ’80s dresses and bright outfits, capturing the essence of a beauty salon in the South in that time.

While the entire show — two acts and one intermission — is set in the salon, the incredible acting makes the show intriguing all the way through. All of the actresses do an exceptional job with their characters, so much that you forget they’re acting, they’re so natural. One scene that stands out in particular is near the end, when M’Lynn (Rachel Carter) breaks down and cries during an intense, emotional monologue that had the audience quiet, some in tears.

Another great character is Truvy (Jessie Congleton). From the voice to the walk, Congleton has her character nailed down. While the entire cast has pretty much equal stage time, Truvy is the leading force bringing all the ladies together. It is her salon, after all.

While it is a female-heavy cast, there are still men in the show, they just aren’t visible. Truvy talks of her “old man” who’s always glued to the television; Annelle (Victoria Brewton) has boyfriend troubles; M’Lynn bickers with her husband and briefly mentions her sons; Shelby (Emily Diener) is engaged but still has some problems with her new fiance. Clairee (Leigh Levine) speaks fondly of her late husband, but her best friend Ouiser (Melita Travis Johnson) complains of all men and resists dating.

It’s easy to see that pretty much all the men mentioned in the show are lazy and causing problems with their wives, and the women are pushing forward and dealing with their live’s issues surrounded by their supportive girlfriends.

This theme of women banding together is what defines the meaning of “Steel Magnolias.” The flowers are used in Shelby’s wedding, and towards the end, M’Lynn briefly mentions something about how men are supposed to be “made of steel.”

Meanwhile, women are often seen (wrongly) as something fragile, pure and beautiful, like a flower. But in this case, these women deal with life’s problems as best they can, and continue to laugh their way through it. Just like steel magnolias.

The show is both intriguing and relaxing, making it to just sit back, laugh, cry and enjoy. The acting skills of this cast are stunning and make the simple set and plot come alive. I’d recommend this show to anyone looking to get away from the complications of life and enjoy a good story.

Steel Magnolias
Grand Rapids Civic Theatre
Sep. 7-23