Rusty Strait | Senior Reporter

Steel Magnolias debuted as a stage play in 1987, followed by the film two years later. Since then, it has been produced throughout the country numerous times. Seeing it on the stage today is like dusting off a book you have read before and reliving the experience.

The latest presentation by the Ramona Hillside Players has its pluses and minuses. In some ways, it is the age-old differences between mother and daughter and the gossipy neighborhood gossip meeting place.

Act I opens in a home beauty salon where the owner (Amanda Lashmit), Truvy and her newly hired young employee (Macy Weinfurter), Anelle, are fussing about prepping for the day to come.

Soon the women begin to join them and then the fun begins. A very rebellious (Sheila Burke) Shelby, whose impending marriage is the talk of the town, sits in the beautician’s chair and Truvy starts to work on her hair when they are joined by (Monica Reichl) M‘Lynn. Shelby’s mother strongly objects to the wedding, claiming she is too young to marry. This becomes a battle of wits between the two throughout the first act, But Shelby is set on marriage and that is that.

A woman of means and wife of a former mayor (Janet Fulton), Clairee bounces in as a lady who knows how to dish the gossip as well as anyone in town and she doesn’t fail to perform her duty. Combine that with the town grouch with a heart of pure gold (Cheri Gilbert) Ouiser, a close friend of Clairee. Ouiser is as cantankerous as all outdoors. She is unhappy because she has no one in her life, but she slowly admits that a man has come to live with her but claims it is only a platonic relationship. It is evident to this group of gossipy women that she is hiding something. In Act II, she finally confesses there is more to it and seems, at last, to show a softer side.

Shelby decides she is going to have a baby. Her mother strongly objects, reminding her of “what the doctor says.” Mama insists that she should adopt, so the mother/daughter continues.

Annelle shows up in Act II, obviously in the final stages of pregnancy. She, who prays over and with anything and anyone and quotes the bible frequently, seems to have become more human.

This cast has loads of experience and it is amazing how well their staccato conversations move the action. These women are so typically southern that if you are from the south, you will immediately remember the gossip who would talk about her neighbors behind their backs and be the first to come in time of need. They wield a companionship that few men would understand. All of their husbands and boyfriends are only referred to.

The real action comes in Act II after a short intermission. Shelby gets married and has her baby, but she develops a problem and needs dialysis. She has kidney failure and true to her mother’s warnings, she is in deep trouble. Mama volunteers one of her kidneys to save her child’s life, but it doesn’t work and the crux of the play takes place when Shelby dies.

That is when this play meets its truth.

Despite their differences in politics, love and existence, they come together as one for M’Lynn’s time of grief and sorrow. They show the kind of strength women have when it comes to emotions. Coming together when one of them is in need reflects the strength of women and particularly in women of the deep south.

The final scene of Act II erupts into a knockdown community weeping and wailing that quickly turns to laughter, proving the old adage that tragedy always turns to comedy but it takes some serious directing for that to happen so suddenly. Sarah Gibbon had the task of bringing so many personalities together that it seemed a miracle she could bring it off as successfully as she did.

No play is successful without good lighting, sound (a bit wobbly here) and settings. The staff deserves kudos.

If the play was a bit slow initially, it soon raced on to the end.

About the standouts in acting. Truvy keeps the pot boiling with aplomb and dialog rolling off her tongue like an auctioneer. Monica Reichl and Shealagh Burke were perfectly paired as the mother and daughter who loved each other despite the stubbornness of them both.

Janet Fulton and Macy Weinfurter were more than adequate but the standout to me was Cheri Gilbert who stole every scene. She presented a satiric personality with so much conviction that it seemed she was incapable of warmth until she showed who she really was. Outstanding.

Just sayin’


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