If you’re still trying to choose among flowers, jewelry, candy or dinner for your mom’s or wife’s Mother’s Day gift, here’s yet another suggestion: Take her to the Bellarine Theatre Co.’s production of “Steel Magnolias” at the Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences, located at 120 Long Beach Blvd. in the Loveladies neighborhood of Long Beach Township.
Robert Harling’s 1987 play, which was adapted into the 1989 film featuring an all-star cast, will be performed on May 11, 12 and 13 at 7 p.m. and on May 14, Mother’s Day itself, at 3 p.m. Tickets range from $12 to $20 and may be purchased online at btco.booktix.com, by phone at 609-661-2083 or at the door starting one hour before curtain time.
Rhyme simply can’t be avoided here – Harling’s play is a darling.
“Steel Magnolias” is a peek into the life of six women in a small town in 1980’s Louisiana. There’s the wisecracking but kind Truvy Jones (Alison Martin), the owner of the beauty salon in which the women often gather, the female equivalent of hanging around the barber shop. Her brand new assistant is the young Annelle Dupuy-Desoto (Marcella Aboyoun), dumped friendless and broke by her husband in a strange town. Jones’ customers include Clairee Belcher (Darcie King), an eccentric wealthy widow; Ouiser Boudreaux (Jeanne Sutton), a world-class curmudgeon (“I’m not crazy, I’ve just been in a bad mood for 40 years”); M’Lynn Eatenton (Caitlin Hughes), a mental health counselor and the town’s arbiter of taste; and M’Lynn’s daughter, Shelby (Meagan Hoer).
Shelby is the play’s central character. The show opens on the morning of her wedding, and she gently argues with her mother over the wedding’s arrangements as she gets her hair done for the big day.
TRUVY: What are your colors, Shelby?
SHELBY: Blush and bashful.
M’LYNN: Her colors are pink and pink.
SHELBY: Blush and bashful. I’ve chosen two shades of pink. One is much deeper than the other.
M’LYNN: The sanctuary looks likes it’s been hosed down with Pepto-Bismol. I tried to talk her into using peaches and cream. That would be so lovely this time of year. All the azaleas in our yard are peach colored. Peach is so flattering to every skin tone.
SHELBY: No way. Pink is my signature color.
Shelby, whose wardrobe is almost entirely pink, seems like an airhead. But it quickly becomes apparent she is dealing with a very real problem, Type 1 diabetes. Shelby’s doctors have advised her not to have a baby, and she worries her husband-to-be, despite his affirmations that adoption is fine with him, won’t be happy not being able to father his own children.
Months pass between Act I, Scene 1 and Act I, Scene 2. Shelby announces she’s become pregnant. That worries her mother to no end. The play’s second act moves a couple of years into the future. The SandPaper won’t give the storyline away, but suffice it to say the show, which opened as a comedy, turns more into a drama.
It is the combination of comedy and drama that makes “Steel Magnolias” a gem. Harling, like another Southern writer, Truman Capote, must have spent a ton of time among women as a child because he nails their relationships, how women dealing with other women can go from catty foes to hugging and crying BFFs in a split second. And he certainly gave his characters some memorable lines.
Ouiser hates M’Lynn’s husband, Drum, because he is always firing a pistol to scare birds out of his fruit trees, driving her dog to hair-falling-out distraction. Then, on the morning of Shelby’s wedding, she emerges from her house to discover her neighbor has plucked her magnolia trees naked to fill his pool with petals for the wedding:
OUISER: So I go out to cut some fresh flowers for the living room. I go down to my magnolia tree, and there is not a bloom on it!
M’LYNN: Ouiser. The judge has not decided whose tree that is, exactly.
OUISER: It’s mine! Be that as it may, it would not be too much to ask for me to have one blossom to brighten my home. I am all alone except for my dog!
CLAIREE: You need something in your life besides that dumb animal …
OUISER: Put a lid on it, Clairee. When I asked Drum how all of my magnolias ended up in his pool, he fired at me!
M’LYNN: They’re blanks. And Drum would never aim a gun at a lady.
OUISER: He’s a real gentleman. I’ll bet he takes the dishes out of the sink before he pees in it.
Harling also wrote from experience when he penned the more dramatic parts of “Steel Magnolias.” His sister suffered a complicated pregnancy due to diabetes, an experience so striking to the author that, according to legend, he wrote the play’s script in just 10 days.
The play, unlike the movie, has no male roles. It is all about the strength of women, and not in an elitist, Hillary Clinton-like way, but rather in very down-to-earth portrayals. Men are constantly mentioned in the script but never make an appearance – in other words, they are missing, as is so often the case these days in a land of single-parent households.
As I watched a rehearsal of “Steel Magnolias” I thought of my mother and, even more so, her mother. My mother didn’t have an easy time of it, moving constantly due to my father’s job and losing a child, my brother Kevin, in just a couple of days when I was 5 years old. But her mother, OMG! She had a dozen children, one after another, losing one at an early age to scarlet fever. And this was during the Great Depression! How that woman must have worked; how she must have worried in the days before vaccinations in the age of polio.
My father and my grandfather were good fathers, but there is no doubt that it was the mothers who were the backbones of our families. What better way to honor your mother or mother of your children than to take her to see this play, showing her that you value her steadfastness?
Oh, by the way, you don’t have to choose between dinner or the show thanks to Ship Bottom’s Greenhouse Café, which is offering a buy-one-entrée-get-a-second-at-half-price deal for customers producing a ticket stub, receipt or program from “Steel Magnolias” at time of purchase. And you can add in sweets, thanks to a concession table at the show sponsored by Sweet Melissa’s Creative Custom Confections.
Finally, you can drink a toast to that all-important woman in your life – just bring your own champagne – because a mimosa bar will be part of that table.