“Janice is the current mayor’s wife. We hate her.” While not a line that sums up the entire play, those few words uttered by Dixie Dorsett’s Clairee struck me as the perfect way to get a review of “Steel Magnolias” rolling. The entire time spent enjoying this classic of stage and screen was filled with one-liners bordering on perfection.
An extremely well-cast production is what awaits theater goers in downtown Palestine for this show. Director Carol Moore has shown her formidable chops, extracting fantastic character studies from a cast featuring longtime veterans and newcomers alike.
The story is well-known. A close-knit group of ladies navigate life from their headquarters at Truvy’s Beauty Shop. And life comes at them full steam ahead.
Being a PCT dinosaur myself, a relic from the Texas Theaters dark ages, I knew what to expect from Mrs. Moore’s directorial skills as well as several of the cast members. Truvy, the glue that holds the group together, is played to perfection by Cassie Severn. Cassie is a longtime veteran of the area’s theater community and as usual, delivers a near-perfect performance. She dispatches southern beauty shop wisdom at a rapid pace while projecting a familiar character that we all feel like we already knew. I felt certain that I’d had my hair cut by her a thousand times in years past. Then there is Clairee, the former mayor’s wife and local socialite, brilliantly played by Dixie Dorsett. I am a large man without a sense of style. I wear my “good flip flops” to social events. Even I want to spend a day shopping with Clairee.
And there is exactly where my expectations ended.
Brandi Derr, who does a beautiful job playing M’Lynn, has done several shows with PCT, but she arrived long after I became fossilized, so her take on a worried mother trying to assist her health-challenged daughter navigate life was an eye-opener for me. Far and away the most difficult role in my opinion, Brandi brings a level of emotion and, for lack of a better word, motherness to a part that isn’t loaded with punch lines and makes it very real. She also has one of the most epic hairdos ever to grace a stage.
Corie Mason-Best and Tonya Johnson, both newcomers to PCT, play Shelby and Annelle respectively, and do a beautiful job. Corie’s Shelby is the center of much of the emotional ride of the show. She tackles joy, tragedy and an overprotective mother with the sort of skill that invites the audience to sit next to her for the ride. Tonya’s Annelle navigates a literal metamorphosis on stage, transforming from a quiet introvert, unsure of her place in the world, through several steps which end up with her being the spiritual compass of the cast. Her development is an absolute pleasure to watch.
The biggest surprise for me, however, was Kathrine Newton’s Ouiser. Having spent many hours on stage with Kathrine, I know her best as Miss Fleur, the school marm and leading love interest of Sheriff Rex King during what felt like a lifetime of summer melodramas in years past. Miss Fleur didn’t walk on stage. She floated. My guess was about two inches above the floor on a cushion of air. Her lines were delivered while gazing into the heavens, eyelashes fluttering like tiny butterflies…
Miss Ouiser is nothing like Miss Fleur.
Kathrine found her inner Ouiser and hits the audience with her as if she is wielding a large piece of lumber. Armed with some of the funniest and most outlandish lines in the play, I left wondering if Ouiser was based on my own neighbor when I was a kid. Probably not, but wow… it was close.
In all, the production is fantastic. It is easy to see the many hours and sacrifice the cast and crew gave to the production and it shows in the final product.
Steel Magnolias runs Friday, April 1 through Sunday, April 3. Tickets are available in advance at PCTBoxoffice.com or you can purchase them at the door. The historic Texas Theater is located at 213 W. Crawford in downtown Palestine.