Steel Magnolias at Next Door Theater


Performances July 26, 27 and 28

You might assume that a play set in a beauty salon and featuring all female characters would appeal mainly to women – the theatrical equivalent of a “chick flick.” But after seeing the Next Door Theatre’s production of “Steel Magnolias,” what sticks with you are the play’s universal themes, its humor and the strong performances of the six women in the cast.

Directed by former Wakefield resident Nancy Curran Willis and starring Wakefield resident Margaret McCarty as “Ouiser,” all the action in Robert Harling’s play takes place in Truvy’s Beauty Salon in rural Louisiana.

Truvy (played by Jackie Coco) owns the salon which is in her home’s converted garage. Truvy is a font of homespun southern wisdom. She has just hired a new girl in town – young Annelle (Sarajane Mullins) who she suspects “has a past.”

Neighbors M’Lynn (Amelia Broome) is a solon regular as is her twenty-something daughter, Shelby (played with sweetness and vulnerability by Melissa Marie Walker). Shelby is getting married that day. Prior to their arrival at the salon to get their hair done for the wedding, the repeated sounds of gun shots can be heard in the background. We soon learn this is M’Lynn’s husband Drum’s way of ridding the backyard trees of flocks of birds in preparation for his daughter’s wedding reception.

Rounding out the cast of characters are Clairee (Beth Gotha), the wealthy widow of the town’s longtime mayor, and another neighbor, the sharp-tongued Ouiser (McCarty).

We learn that despite her Type 1 diabetes, Shelby is reasonably healthy. But her doctors have warned her that pregnancy and childbirth could gravely endanger her health. Initially, Shelby, a nurse, is philosophical – observing that she and her husband, a lawyer, can always adopt as many kids as they like.

But six months later, at Christmas time, Shelby informs her mother that she’s pregnant. M’Lynn is taken aback and upset at what she sees as her daughter’s reckless decision, but Shelby assures her mother that “lots of diabetics have babies.”

The play is about how a group of strong southern women get through both the day-to-day grind and tragedy by relying on humor, old fashioned country wisdom – and each other.

Not surprisingly, the caustic beauty salon banter involves a plenty of gossip, and the women take their share of good-natured shots at the foibles of the men in their lives.

“The last romantic thing my husband did was in 1972,” Truvy observes. “He enclosed this car port so I could support him.”

Or as the smart-ass Clairee quips, “If you don’t have anything nice to say about anybody – come sit by me!”

As usual, director Nancy Curran Willis has done a near perfect job casting the show and coaxes fine performances from all. Each of the actors so convincingly inhabits her role that had I run into one of them in the lobby after the show I would have fully expected her to speak with a southern drawl.

The accents couldn’t sound more authentic, at least to my admittedly Yankee ear. Willis credits cast member Amelia Broome, who is from Georgia, for doubling as a dialect coach and keeping the other actors on track. It’s no small accomplishment that all six actors manage to maintain their accents throughout the show without a slip.

Aside from the performances, another striking feature of this show is Brian Milauskas’s set design. With the salon chairs, the hair-washing sink, the hair dryers and the manicure station, you’ll swear you’re looking at a real salon. That’s because in effect you are. Willis explains that by lucky coincidence a local hair salon was going out of business and told Next Door Theater they could have for free whatever furnishings and equipment they wanted.

Even if you’ve seen the movie, it’s well worth the short trip to Winchester to see this cast in Next Door Theater’s production of Steel Magnolias.

Performances are on Thursday, July 26 at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, July 27 at 8 p.m. and Saturday, July 28 at 8 p.m. The Next Door Theater is located at 40 Cross St. in Winchester, MA.

[STEEL MAGNOLIAS, by Robert Harling. Directed by Nancy Curran Willis. Set Design, Brian Milauskas. Costume Design, Magda Aliberti. Lighting Design, Erik Fox. Sound Design, Bob Pascucci. Stage Manager, Rachel Fennell. Assistant Stage Manager, Megan Ottesan.]

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One Response to “Steel Magnolias at Next Door Theater”

  1. 1 ‘Crimes of the Heart’ at Gloucester Stage Company « Mark Sardella

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