Review: Spotlight presents a heartfelt revival of ‘Steel Magnolias’

By Margie Royal

Spotlight Theatre is presenting an engaging revival of Robert Harling’s “Steel Magnolias” through Sept. 30. I first saw this show many years ago and one of the first responses I had after seeing Spotlight’s fine production last Friday night was how much life has changed. The women that frequent Truvy’s (Cheryl Stark) Beauty Shop in the 1980s have the time to enjoy leisurely hours in the shop, hearing the gossip and sharing their daily lives – all of which develops deep bonds of friendship. At the opening, Clariee (Bonnie Grant) arrives for her appointment but graciously waits, deferring to M’Lynn (Shanna Massad) and her daughter Shelby (Julia Terruso). It’s hard to imagine that now. Our lives, especially here in the urban East, have become so scheduled, and piled up with duties and chores, that’s it’s more likely we’d react with rage at showing up for a scheduled appointment and seeing we’d have to wait. And, then, if we waited, we’d be using our cell phones, and not very likely to take much interest in the lives of the other people around us.

Light and sound designer Andrew Montemayor helps take the audience back to the pre-cell phone, not so hectic 1980s via a great selection of preshow, scene change and intermission music. For those who don’t know the story, the show opens in Truvy’s Louisiana Beauty Shop on Shelby’s wedding day. It’s also the first day of work for Truvy’s new assistant, the secretive Annelle (Jennifer Ursone). The women discuss Shelby’s wedding, and share news of their lives, as the audience watches and begins to bond with them. Shelby is seemingly the girl that has the perfect life. She seems set for a secure future with her soon to be husband, a local lawyer. But as the first scene unfolds, we come to see things aren’t so perfect for Shelby. Also making an appearance in the shop is crusty, sarcastic Ouiser (Laurie Jacobs).

After the intermission, we meet these ladies again in June after 18 months have passed. The final scene is set in November. By then we know them well and see the steel in their natures, reinforced by love and friendship, that helps these southern ladies withstand life’s bitterest tests.

Director Jessica Stinson has cast the show very well. The talented ensemble makes the audience emphasize with these southern ladies. Cheryl Stark captures Truvy warm, big-hearted nature, and also does a great job portraying a seasoned hairdresser at work. Jennifer Ursone as Annelle shows us at first a guarded, secretive woman, and makes it believable and natural that her character later finds a true strength in religion. Julia Terruso is outstanding in capturing Shelby’s kind, outgoing, and friendly nature; and Shelby’s determined fight to keep a sunny outlook on life. Shanna Massad captures M’Lynn’s fiercely protective motherly nature and makes us feel the raw, emotional wounds her character must withstand. Bonnie Grant does a great job creating her character’s sophisticated, accustomed-to-the-best sense of style – all without having her character come off as a snob. Laurie Jacobs plays Ouiser with great honesty. Ouiser is who she is – a town “character” –  but as Laurie Jacobs shows us, Ouiser has a very sensitive and sweet nature underneath a gruff exterior.

Friendship takes time to develop, so be prepared to experience an immersion in “Steel Magnolia’s” slower-paced world. The play will make you laugh, feel pity and compassion, and may even make you cry – it’s a rich, satisfying theatrical experience.

Dan Stinson’s set and beauty shop set design and the detailed set dressing and props also add greatly to the show. Kudos to all involved!

If you go: Remaining shows are Sept. 3, 24*, 28, 30, 2017

Evenings at 8 PM – Tickets $15.00

*Matinee at 2 PM – Tickets $12.00

Spotlight Theatre is at 129 Park Avenue, Swarthmore, Pa. For tickets, visit spotlighttheatrepa.org.