By Faye Gaston
When "Steel Magnolias" came out as a movie, it was called a "chick flick", meaning it would appeal especially to women. This is true, but it really touches the hearts of mothers. The play demonstrates the unconditional and sacrificial love a mother has for her child. The play was sold out at the Red Door Theatre in Union Springs on July 26-29, 2018.
The setting for this southern play was Louisiana in the 1980's in a beauty salon in the "hairdo capital of the world." All scenes of the play are in the beauty salon, women's territory, with interaction between six close women friends. The philosophy is expressed, "There is no such thing as natural beauty." There is conversation about streaking and frosting hair, wrapping the hair in toilet tissue at night to sleep, hair spray, keeping up with the latest hairstyles in the stack of women's magazines, and speaks of the "hairdo hall of fame." And the character, Ouiser, speaks of a former man friend with the "longest nose hair in the free world."
The women talk about and criticize the men in their lives in a humorous way. The play centers around Shelby (portrayed by Kathryn Youngblood Williamson) who is in the hair salon to get her hair done similar to a photo of Princess Grace that she brings in.
This is for her wedding that afternoon. She gets the hairdo with Baby's Breath added and a manicure with pink nail polish, her signature color. The accent wedding colors are two shades of pink. She is a nurse and loves to hold babies and wants one of her own. In scene one, all six women are introduced on stage. Truvy (portrayed by Beth Beasley) is the owner of the salon.
With her big blond wig, she is a reminder of Dolly Parton in the movie. It is the first day of work there for Annelle (portrayed by Charity Smith). At age 18, her husband has deserted her and goes to jail. She meets her second husband, a bartender at Shelby's wedding. She gets religion big-time, marries again, and is pregnant at the end of the play and announces she will name the baby "Shelby." Ouiser (portrayed by Janet Wilkerson) is rough talking but is so funny!
I suspect that some came to the play when they learned Janet would be in the play. She has a feud with Shelby's father over his firing blank shots to scare birds out of trees and scares her beloved dog, Rhett, into a nervous condition. Clairee (portrayed by Kim Graham) is the wealthy widow of the former Mayor, owner of the radio station, and close friend of Ouiser. She collects recipes and is the calmest one of the group. M'Lynn (portrayed by Leigh Moorer) bickers with her daughter Shelby over using the color pink at the wedding, her wedding hairdo, and other things, but there is also evident affection between mother and daughter.
Shelby has a diabetic episode from too much insulin. The women get her to drink something sweet and her mother says the doctor has said children for Shelby is not possible. In scene two, the Saturday before Christmas, the salon's Christmas tree is decorated by Annelle with "hair things" and mismatched manger scene ornaments.
Shelby tells her mother she is pregnant and the mother goes into a state of shock. Shelby tells her that diabetics have healthy babies all the time and she had rather have 30 minutes of a wonderful time than a lifetime of nothing special. Jackson, Jr. is due on June 21. Shelby chooses to risk her own life to have a baby.
In act two, scene one, 18 months later, the baby was born three months premature, weighing one and a half pounds and now weighs 15 pounds. Shelby gets her very long hair cut short for the first time in her life, making it easier to deal with the toddler.
She gets emotional about her hair cut short, so the friends get weepy too. Seeing the bruises on Shelby's arms, the women learn she has been on kidney dialysis for two months. They learn she will get a kidney transplant from her mother, and how difficult the surgery will be for the mother. Leigh Moorer was amazing as the mother in this role.
The mother said, "Most mothers get the chance to give their child life once. I get a chance to do it twice." In scene two, Shelby has died. The mother told her friends that the kidney transplant failed. Shelby was in a coma and machines were turned off. Shelby's Dad and husband left, but the mother stayed until death came.
She said, "I was there when this wonderful person drifted into my world and I was there when she drifted out. It was the most precious moment of my life thus far." She had a very angry emotional outburst over not understanding why Shelby died, and that had the friends emotional too.
Leigh Moore's superb acting was the way loving mothers re-act at the probability of a child's death and then the actual death of a child. Yes, this is a play especially for women, but oh, how the mothers can identify with this outpouring of love of the mother for her daughter, and for the daughter's desire to become a mother.
For this real-life drama, the audiences appreciate the six actresses; the sponsor, The Tourism Council of Bullock County; the Director, Kathryn Wood; Stage Manager, Lisa Norton; Backstage, Scherrie Banks; Set Design, Philip Duvic and Bob Wood; Sound Effects, Robert Drake; Sound Engineer, Tim Hereford; Lighting Design, Charity Smith; and Lightboard Operator, Belinda Barto.