Colorful comedy ‘Steel Magnolias’ opens Redhouse theater season

Colorful comedy ‘Steel Magnolias’ opens Redhouse theater season

Review: Play about the bond between women in a small-town Southern beauty salon ends up falling short.
Published: September 28, 2018
Steel Magnolias at The Redhouse Arts Center


The Southern charm and sass that binds the popular “Steel Magnolias” together like Aqua Net hairspray on teased curls is curiously lacking in The Redhouse’s season opener.

Since its 1987 premiere and star-studded silver-screen remake in 1989, writer Robert Harling’s “Steel Magnolias” has remained a beloved classic. Despite being penned by a man, most agree Harling was able to capture the poignant, steadfast nature of female friendship through the exuberant women who frequent Truvy’s hair salon.

The ladies of the salon are as colorful and rich as the gossip they share. From the crotchety Ouiser to the brassy Clairee, the play follows six women navigating the highs and lows of life as they get their hair rolled and nails painted in the man-free haven of the salon. But instead of creating a heartwarming bond of friendship, the actresses in this production seem more concerned with remembering their lines and attempting to deliver them in manufactured Southern accents — all with varying degrees of success.


Actress Marguerite Mitchell as Shelby and Magdalyn Donnelly as Truvy in "Steel Magnolias," which runs at The Redhouse Arts Center through Sept. 30.


Magdalyn Donnelly, as the bubbly salon owner, Truvy, radiates a diva-like glow and appears more focused on playing to the audience than playing off her castmates. Caroline Strang, in the role of the capricious salon assistant, Annelle, gives a telenovela-like performance as she transitions from runaway wife to born-again Christian.

Making an entrance as the cantankerous Ouiser, Marcia Mele swings open the screen door in frustration and proclaims “This is it. I’ve found it. I’m in hell.” But her performance delivers more heart than grump as the old curmudgeon.

At the center of the play is the mother-daughter duo, M’Lynn (Laura Stisser) and Shelby (Marguerite Mitchell), who frequently butt heads over Shelby’s well-being. Mitchell does an adequate job portraying the head-strong Shelby, one of the least developed characters in Harling’s play. But there’s only so much an actress can do when your character’s personality rests on loving the color pink and being a Type-1 diabetic.

M’Lynn, however, has some of the richest monologues in the play, and yet newcomer, Stisser, falls flat on every one of them. In the final scene, as M’Lynn grieves an unimaginable loss, she continually shouts “I’m fine” – a line designed to show how decidedly not fine she is. But when Stisser delivers this line, in a monotone, emotionless voice, I was inclined to believe her.

Perhaps the saving grace of this production comes in the form of Karis Wiggins as the rich, Southern belle, Clairee, who exudes matronly grace and poise, even while wearing a baseball cap and pearls. Opening night also saw many technical glitches, from missed light cues to lengthy scene changes. While the teal walls, hooded hair dryers and rickety screen door create a wonderfully gaudy look for the neighborhood salon (hats off to set designer, Shane Cinal), the Target-brand cotton balls and modern Puffs tissue packaging show the lack of dramaturgical care put into this production.

This play’s success is largely attributed to the fact that these characters do not become caricatures. Director Temar Underwood seems to have completely ignored this concept, however, allowing witty one-liners to take the place of actual acting and sweeping up honest emotion with the hair clippings on the salon floor.

“Steel Magnolias” will run until Sunday at The Redhouse Arts Center in downtown Syracuse. Tickets are $27 and $32.




Left to Right: Karis Wiggins (Clairee), Magdalyn Donnelly (Truvy), Marguerite Mitchell (Shelby) and Caroline Strang (Annelle) prepare for the big wedding in "Steel Magnolias" at The Redhouse.