‘Steel Magnolias’ steals hearts and minds in moving production at Chatham Playhouse

By Liz Keill

CHATHAM, NJ – A strong ensemble cast brings the 1987 play, “Steel Magnolias,” to life in a funny, sad tale of southern friends in Louisiana.  Like the title implies, these southern belles have steel and grit in facing life’s calamities.

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Set in Truvy’s beauty parlor, the friends have shared their foibles, sorrows, irritation and love over the  years. Anna Cave plays the pivotal role of Truvy, who owns the beauty parlor and insists that no woman is naturally beautiful. (She needs all the help she can get.) Cave brings a touching compassion in her dealings with some of her more difficult clients.

And she soon has a new assistant, Annelle, played by Erin Feith. Annelle is new in town, with a husband who apparently is going to prison. She starts off on a somewhat funky note, but when she finds religion, she becomes a different person.

Clairee is played by Barbara Haag, who seems to have a love/hate relationship with Ousier (Jodi Freeman Maloy.) The two spar often, but beneath it all they bond. They both have a terrific sense of timing as they deliver some of the funniest lines in the play.  

The heart of the story centers on M’Lynn (Lynn Langone) and her daughter Shelby (Nicole Boscarino.)  Shelby is getting married, but also has health issues. When M’Lynn learns her daughter is pregnant, issues of dialysis and kidney failure come out. The play spans about two years, as we learn more about the interaction of these long time friends. Towards the end of Act II, M’Lynn shares her sense of loss. The scene is stunning, enhanced by the lighting effects of Kevin Ohlweiler. 

Roy Pancirov and Bob Lukasik have designed an engaging set of the beauty salon with hints of turquoise and subdued tones. Costumes by Beverly Wand and Andrea Sickler reflect the comfortable world these women inhabit. Joelle Bochner has provided intriguing wigs, which also add a sense of ‘keeping up appearances,’ no matter the circumstances.

This touching play was written by Robert Harling, with incisive direction by Jeffrey Fiorello.

Performances continue through March 10 at The Chatham Playhouse, 023 North Passaic Avenue in Chatham.  For tickets, call 973-635-7363 or visit chathamplaayers.org.