A glimpse into the forbidden world of the salon

“My favourite emotion, laughing through tears,” said Clairee Belcher (Susan Clarke), one of the six memorable characters who inhabit Truvy’s Beauty Salon. The packed house at MTC on the opening night of Steel Magnolias couldn’t have agreed more.

The true star of the show is Truvy’s Beauty Salon, the quintessential gathering place for women in any era (the era in this play happens to be the 1980s). Perhaps what attracted the males in the audience, who, despite the play’s nearly exclusive focus on women, appeared to be thoroughly entertained, was that they were permitted a rare insight into this secret bastion of female power. This is where it all begins — where the strategies are developed, where the frontal assault is launched. You’ve always felt that there must be a hidden training site for women; now you know. It’s the salon, and you’re invited in to see how it happens.

For those of you who missed the movie, here’s the plot.

The play opens with Truvy Jones (Sharon Bajer), the owner of Truvy’s salon, and a new hire, Annelle Dupuy-Desoto (Robyn Slade) who is extremely closed mouthed. Truvy is expecting Shelby Eatenton-Latcherie the daughter of regular customer, M’Lynn Eataton (Miriam Smith). In walks Clairee Belcher, who had been married to the town’s recently deceased mayor. Eventually added to this coven is the former star of Laverne & Shirley, Cindy Williams, as Ouiser Boudreaux.

Ouiser apparently owns the worlds ugliest dog who, along with the rest of the cast, is being just a teensy bit bothered by the constant sound of shotgun blasts from Shelby’s father. Neither the father nor the dog actually ever appears on stage. Unlike the audience, they are not permitted anywhere near Truvy’s. The reason for the shotgun blasts is that Shelby’s wedding is taking place outdoors on the Eatenton property and Shelby is afraid that birds will be shitting all over her guests.

Ouiser comes storming into Truvy’s complaining about Shelby’s father who has stripped Ouiser’s magnolia tree of all of its blossoms and set them floating in his swimming pool, telling Ouiser when confronted that it must have been the wind.

The plot lines are revealed in the first act. Shelby, a diabetic, has been warned not to have children. However, in the second act she returns to Truvy’s after having moved away following her marriage. She reveals that she is pregnant. Her mother, M’Lynn, is concerned about the effect of the pregnancy on Shelby’s health — a well-founded concern as will be later revealed.

Annelle, who has been avoiding any discussion about herself, finally reveals that she has been abandoned by her “husband” and is despondent that her marriage may not have been legally valid. Throughout the course of the play she discovers the Baptist church and becomes born-again. Her religious seriousness is juxtaposed against the levity of the others.

The strength of the acting throughout can be seen in that Cindy Williams does not dominate; the others in the cast are her equals.

Susan Clark, who plays Clairee, has magnificent comic timing. Her actions at the end will have you “laughing through tears.” Hers is an absolutely brilliant performance.

Kudos to Robyn Slade (Annelle), who, in her first appearance at MTC, provides a strong foil for much of the action. Her character also helps defuse situations threatening to become overly emotional.

Special recognition must be given to Winnipeg’s own Miriam Smith (M’Lynn) who provides a stellar performance, particularly in M’Lynn’s interactions with her daughter, Shelby. She’ll steal your heart.

The quality of the acting by all and the quality of the play exceeds the star rating system. It’s a pity only five stars can be given.