On Stage

Southern Comfort

Getting real with Steel Magnolias

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

“If you’re bothered by the smell of hairspray, you’re going to want to avoid sitting in certain sections of the audience,” my plus-one and I were told by an usher as we made our way into the Mount Baker Theatre’s intimate Walton Theatre for a viewing of Steel Magnolias, one of the three productions showing through mid-August as part of the theater’s seventh Summer Rep season.

He wasn’t kidding. Within the first 60 seconds of the play—which takes place entirely in Truvy’s Beauty Salon in the small town of Chinquapin, Louisiana in the 1980s—the aerosol was being sprayed with reckless abandon.

Although we were sitting far enough away so that the fumes didn’t reach us, those sitting near the danger zone looked amused rather than alarmed by the energetic beautification that was going on at the hands of the salon’s namesake, Truvy, who was played with perfect southern charm by area actress Kathleen Sasnett.

To those of us sitting a few rows away from the fray, the no-holds-barred use of the hair product added another layer of realism to the story of a disparate group of women who gather at their favorite salon on a regular basis to gossip, share stories about their husbands and boyfriends and, when needed, step up to the plate to help each other overcome life’s many obstacles.

The whole play, in fact, rang true. Truvy and her new-to-town assistant Annelle (Emily Nash), really were styling the hair of patrons such as Clairee (Terry Sacks), Shelby (Crystal J. O’Brien), M’Lynn (Teri Grimes), and Ouiser (Sheila Goodwin). There was actual water coming out of the pipes of the hair-washing station, and the bangs that were teased higher than was proper were really, well, up there.

But, of course, the important ingredient that helped the play make the transition from page to stage was the way the actresses made it come alive. From Goodwin’s portrayal of the irascible Ouiser (pronounced “Weezer”) to Grimes’ flawless execution of a woman who’s afraid to lose her daughter—and does—to O’Brien’s depiction of a young woman who wants nothing more than to be a “normal” wife and mother, the women involved in this particular rendition of Steel Magnolias did much more than memorize lines and repeat them by rote; they inhabited their characters, and it showed.

While part of the credit surely goes to guest director Amy Attaway—herself a Southern belle—it’s clear the seasoned actresses put their all into making the play a success. Their accents were spot-on, and when they laughed and cried together, those emotions transferred directly to those of us watching the action from the sidelines.

During intermission, my date had informed me that Grimes had also played the role of Shelby’s long-suffering mother at a Bellingham Theatre Guild production of the play, and had posited that perhaps the women playing the characters of Ouiser and Clairee could’ve been switched in this production.

But as we wiped our eyes and got to our feet with the rest of the audience for a standing ovation following the final moments of Steel Magnolias, she grabbed my arm as she yelled to be heard above the din.

“I take it back,” she bellowed, wiping her eyes one more time for good measure. “Everyone was perfect! Just perfect!”

3 Oms 8th Anniversary (Spotlight)
More On Stage...
Ballet Blowout
A regional roundup of talent

Delci Syvertson is only 17, but she’s already been studying ballet for six years. At 18, Henry Winslow has a year more under his pointe shoes. But the two dancers have more than that in common. Both are high school seniors studying at Whatcom Community College through Running Start, as well…

more »
Kidding Around
Welcome to the School of Rock

In the movie version of School of Rock, it takes awhile for the elementary-age students in substitute teacher Dewey Finn’s class to embrace their inherent musical talents and realize they have what it takes not only to excel at playing instruments and singing, but also to share their…

more »
Smooth Jazz
Beyond the classroom at Back2Bellingham

Typically, it isn’t until graduation day has come and gone that college students see the rewards of their years of studies come to fruition.

That wasn’t the case for Teague Parker, a Western Washington University senior whose play, Smooth, Smooth Jazz, garnered him a Kennedy Center…

more »
BC Morgan Horse Show

9:00am| Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Twelfth Night

7:30pm|Philip Tarro Theatre

School of Rock

7:00pm|BAAY Theatre

Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Back to the basics


Ski to Sea Race

7:00am|Mt. Baker to Bellingham Bay

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Images of Resilience Farewell

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Lightcatcher Building

Fairhaven Festival

12:00pm|Historic Fairhaven

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

1:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

Audubon at the Museum

2:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Art of Jazz


Lester and Hyldahl
Open Mic

7:00pm|Village Books


9:30pm|Green Frog

Bellingham Farmer’s Market Trove
Fermented Vegetables

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Skagit Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Bayview Civic Hall

Gather Round

7:00pm|Honey Moon Mead & Cider

Chamber Concerts

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center Concert Hall

see our complete calendar »

Lester and Hyldahl Trove Northwood Steak and Crab Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Village Books Bellingham Farmer’s Market