Women’s resiliency: Phoenix Theatre Company’s production of ‘Steel Magnolias’ highlights strength and resiliency of six Southern women

By Laura Latzko

In these times, leaning on one another and having a sense of humor has been even more important. Robert Harling’s play “Steel Magnolias” highlights these themes through six women, who come together at Truvy’s Beauty Salon in Chinquapin, Louisiana.   

The Phoenix Theatre Company will host the production from August 18 to September 12.

The show is being directed by Karla Koskinen, who previously directed the company’s productions of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” “End of the Rainbow,” “Our Town” and “The Light in the Piazza.”

The show has similar characters as the 1989 film starring Shirley MacLaine, Olympia Dukakis, Julia Roberts, Sally Field and Dolly Parton, but it focuses more on the central female characters.

Audiences will meet Truvy; the beauty shop owner and town gossip; M’Lynn , a prominent career woman; Annelle, the shy apprentice beautician; Ouiser, a rich curmudgeon; Clairee, the wealthy widow of the former mayor and Shelby, M’Lynn’s daughter and the town beauty.

The show gives a deeper glimpse into how these Southern women come together in hard times and good and act as a support system for each other.

Koskinen says although the show is set in late ’70 and early ‘80s, it speaks to topics that are relevant today.

“It’s all about sisterhood, being with people, supporting people and dealing with the challenges of life. There’s a death, and the women support one another and help work through the grief,” Koskinen says.

“After being isolated the way that we were, to come back with a show that celebrates community, that really spoke to me, and also the fact that it looks at death as a part of life and reminds us all that we need to be very grateful for what we have and live in the moment.”

The show has a balance of heartfelt moments and humor.

“When there are things that get heavy, somebody always injects humor…That’s what we do in life. When things are getting too heavy, somebody is going to lighten it up. They are these women with really acerbic wits. They like to tease each other… (Robert Harling) has written really interesting characters, and they all have unique senses of humor,” Koskinen says.

The play highlights the different levels of strength possessed by these women.

“Even though it is about the hardships in life, it’s also about all the joy. Every woman in this piece is strong and finding a way to carry on. Each woman has their trials and tribulations, but they each commit to living life to the fullest,” Koskinen says.

While many plays focus on male characters, “Steel Magnolias” is centered around a group of mostly older women, who audiences get to know throughout the show on a deeper level.

The characters’ husbands and brothers are referenced but never appear onstage.

Koskinen says that this focus on these women, along with the beauty shop setting, helps to bring a level of intimacy to the show.

One of the biggest challenges for the actresses has been to master the accents. The characters speak in a dialect prominent in the region in which the show takes place.

“People think Southern accents are all the same, but they are very different, depending on the region…I think it’s really important that we don’t have a generic accent but that we have one that is authentic to the region,” Koskinen says.

To help prepare them, Koskinen recorded a friend who grew up in Louisiana.

Actresses will also be tasked with styling hair or getting their hair done onstage. They worked with a professional stylist to learn the ins and outs to bring more authenticity to their roles.

“It’s a technique that people develop overtime, and they have to have a crash course and get this down because it has to look like this is what they do for a living,” Koskinen says.