Courtesy of The Dio/Michele Anilker Photography
Following suit of the film, “Steel Magnolias” is essentially a series of comic one liners building to a teary tragedy, and The Dio’s latest production of the Robert Harling play deserves all the laughs and, perhaps most importantly, the tears. In short, the production revolves around a group of tightly knit woman whose husbands seem to leave them all the time in the world to sit around and gossip at a nearby beauty salon.
Taking place in 1980s Louisiana, the popular salon is run by Truvy, the eccentric Carrie Sayer in this performance, made famous by Dolly Parton in the 1989 film. Spouting classic zingers like “There’s no such thing as natural beauty!” and offering a performance about as sunny and enticing as Parton was back in her heyday, Sayer thoroughly commands The Dio stage.
At the top of the show, Truvy has recently granted the clueless, and innocent, Annelle (McKayla Menzel) a job within the salon, and it isn’t too long before she gets introduce to the cream of the crop. In walks the young bride-to-be Shelby (Molly Cunningham) rambling on and on about her engagement (that could include a few slices of blood red armadillo cake) and trifling behind is the mother of the bride M’Lynn (Wend Katz Hiller) with her fellow comrades: the football obsessed and recently widowed Clairee (Olive Hayden-Moore) and the meanest woman on the block Ouiser (Kathleen Wilmoth). Sure, they can toss insults and hateful banter, but they will jump to aid in a moment’s notice, specifically when Shelby’s diabetes starts acting up.
These six women are exactly what the title suggests, independent of their own will, a quartet of busty Southern gals who are strong enough to survive any challenge; and Harling’s script does not hesitate to throw them at us. That in mind, director Steve DeBruyne does an exceptional job at making sure all the comic dialogue is quick-witted so that by the time the tears start flowing, despite the foreshadowing on the wall, we still feel blindsided (I was glad I held onto my napkin from the dinner before the show).
I love the way these women communicate with each other, and for some of the actresses it all looks so natural and, unlike the film, there are no men to be seen in thankless roles who end up getting lost in their own show. Instead, Harling’s tight script keeps the action centered and focused around the women, and DeBruyne’s casting is the icing on the cake. Bringing a beautiful relatability, these girls fight and make up, cry and then hug each other, they do each other’s hair, and when tragedy hits they pull together to grieve and smile through their tears.
The most memorable scene is that surrounding a heartbreaking monologue where Hiller’s M’Lynn asks God the devastating question of “Why?” and I bet there wasn't a dry eye in the house, I was certainly moved. Whether it stands to reason that Harling’s script deserves that kind of attention is a conversation for another time. We know it’s emotionally manipulative, but that doesn’t make the sentiment any less powerful.
Other noteworthy accolades must be given to Matt Tomich’s set, lighting, and sound design as this was the first Dio production I have seen where I didn’t feel overwhelmed with my surroundings. The theatre does good work, but sometimes the setting of bigger productions can take over and steal away the spotlight from the narrative. However, that doesn’t happen with “Steel Magnolias” and you should make any effort you can to see their wonderful production. Now, if someone would pass a tissue, I’ve got something stuck in my eye…
Reservations and showtimes for Steel Magnolias may be made/seen by visiting The Dio's website here or by calling (517) 672-6009. All tickets include the dinner buffet, dessert, and a non-alcoholic beverage. The show runs through March 3rd