So . . . Six remarkable actors play six strong characters in SLO Rep’s current production of Steel Magnolias, the 1987 play by Robert Harling that was reworked into a 1989 film starring six big-box-office names (re-made in 2012 with another six big-box-office names, if you’re interested).
Save yourself the streaming fees, though—sit back and enjoy the opportunity to watch Dori Duke, Alicia Klein, Mary-Ann Maloof, Jackie Morales, Jill Turnbow, and Jessie Villasenor portray the people who work at and routinely visit Truvy’s Beauty Salon in Chinquapin, Louisiana. It must be noted here that SLO Rep’s master scenic designer David Linfield and his crew once again have executed a thoroughly convincing set design that admirably serves the production.
This one-set, two-act, two-hour play offers meaty roles that the actors (deftly directed by Suzy Newman) sink their teeth into, without chewing up the scenery as some might be inclined. There’s a balance and a heart to this production, as if the cast and crew shared as much camaraderie behind the scenes as appears onstage.
At the center of the action is Jackie Morales as Shelby, who brings a bright and giddy light to the part. But as things turn out, it’s really Dori Duke as Shelby’s mother M’Lynn who proves to be the true heart and soul of the show. Although she’s the epitome of the “steel magnolia” of the title, Duke gives a fragile and graceful performance that is supported in a myriad of ways by the remainder of the cast members, who provide loving care and comic relief in equal measure as life-changing events unfold over a three-year span.
Jill Turnbow as Ouiser leads M’Lynn’s pack of friends in the wisecracking and physical comedy department, but Jessie Villasenor as Truvy and Mary-Ann Maloof as Clairee are close behind as they expertly serve up their bon mots and Louisiana turns of phrase to the delight of the audience. Alicia Klein as the wide-eyed Annelle provides a genuine dash of cluelessness that is a pleasure in itself.
It’s also a treat to see the costume work of Renee Van Niel and the hair and wig design by Steve Baier. These two professionals provide a variety and verisimilitude to the proceedings as they help the actors inhabit their characters, the set, and the director’s intentions.
M’Lynn’s final soliloquy as delivered by Duke is a masterful and touching “life goes on” finale that gives audience members something to ponder as they exit.
It’s a shame that the theatre’s schedule doesn’t allow for additional performances of this memorable production. Its strong legs mirror Suzy Newman’s earnest interpretation of the play as a reflection of community (as included in her director’s notes): “It shows us . . . six individuals, with some common ground, each living through their own experiences, together.”
Steel Magnolias plays now through August 14 at San Luis Obispo Repertory Theatre, 888 Morro Street, San Luis Obispo. More Information.