Houston has gone through more than most cities could have endured and has come out making the world take notice. The catchphrase “Houston Strong” is recognized throughout the country and around the world now. While the rest of the country was in awe of the strength of the men and women of Houston, Southern people weren’t surprised, especially about the strength of southern women. There is something uniquely resilient about the women of the South. Their sweet way of talking, their well-kept appearance, and their unaffected demeanor in a crisis can be deceiving. Politeness, kindness, and a willingness to help are all hallmarks of what we think of when we think of a classic southern lady. The less-often touted characteristic of steely resolve is also a defining facet of the women of the south.
The definitive literary work that demonstrates these traits better than any other is certainly Steel Magnolias. The magnolia, a hardy, sweet-smelling flower that has been cultivated in the southern US since the early 1700s, is synonymous with the South. “Steel” refers to the strength of the characters depicted in Robert Harling’s play. It is also interesting that a man wrote this comedic drama that is so often pointed to when referencing the silhouette of women of the South along with Designing Women, Terms of Endearment, and even the literary classic, Gone with the Wind.
Steel Magnolias opens in Truvy Jones’s beauty shop, where desperate for help, she hires a nervous and odd young woman named Annelle played by Sarah Steindl, most recently seen in the Players Theater Company’s Dial M for Murder. It’s Saturday morning in this small Louisiana parish and the ladies who regularly frequent Truvy’s shop are all in attendance. Truvy is played by longtime Players Theater alum Carole Lamont, who has performed in and directed some of the Players’ most memorable shows. Lamont is coming off a directorial stint at the Owen theater in the highly successful Beauty and the Beast. Truvy sees herself providing a vital service to the community. In her own words, “There’s no such thing as natural beauty.”
Sue Hayes, who has been a member of the Players since the early 1980s, appearing in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Nunsense, and Smokey Joe’s Café, in addition to turns as director, costumer, stage manager and more, portrays Clairee Belcher, widow of the former mayor of Chinquapin.
M’Lynn Eatenton, portrayed by Cindy Siple, is the classic southern matriarch, preoccupied with controlling the life of her daughter, Shelby. Siple has a long theater resume that includes every aspect of performance and production. She has been featured in several Players’ productions such as Inherit the Wind, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Cemetery Club, but her career reaches across the United States, from the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre to Flat Rock Playhouse, from Patchwork Players to Artist-in-Residence for the South Carolina Department of Education and Columbia College. Siple and her family lost their entire house to the Hurricane Harvey floods, and Cindy’s resilience in taking on the challenge of rebuilding her home while retaining her positive attitude is the epitome of a steel magnolia.
Shelby is played by Lizzie Camp, who is currently portraying Jo March in the musical version of Little Women with the Players. In Magnolias, Shelby is a spirited twentysomething, who is the “prettiest girl in town” and a diabetic, which is the root of M’Lynn’s continual concern for her daughter’s welfare.
Louisa “Ouiser” Boudreaux, played by the incredible Lisa Schoefield, is the town curmudgeon and Clairee Belcher’s best friend and confidant. Schoefield is best remembered to Conroe theatre-goers for her performance as Doris Silverman in the Players’ production of The Cemetery Club, but she can be seen most frequently in productions with Theatre Southwest. Mark Wilson, former Players’ board president, and recurring stage presence, lends his distinctive voice as the radio announcer.
The beauty shop is the place where the women gather to connect. They don’t just come to have their hair done, they come because this is where the people they love can be found. Truvy even notes toward the end of the play that she opened up the shop just in case M’Lynn decided she needed somebody to talk to.
As the story unfolds the women are tested to their limits. They discover that it’s their friendship that gets them through the most difficult times of their lives. As some have endured the trials brought on by the recent flooding, they’ve had to rely on friends and family and even strangers to help cope and to keep Houston Strong, strong like steel magnolias.
This play is funny and sad and inspiring. Don’t miss it. Steel Magnolias opens January 26th at the Owen Theater in Conroe, Texas.