Speaking from behind hairsprayed bouffants, Truvy (Tamara Howell), Annelle (Nicki Nixon) and company glamorously primped Pinnacle Acting Company’s Steel Magnolias for its weekend opener. The two-act play—which debuted off-Broadway in 1987—is directed by Shellie Waters from Robert Harling’s script and is set in Truvy’s hair salon. Steel Magnolias follows protagonist Shelby (Emily Burnworth) through diabetes, childbearing and subsequent tragic developments. The locale—the six female characters’ salon—helps capture the intricacies of their loving, gossip-filled relationships.
As the tough-as-nails ladies all share the stage, a magnificent chemistry emerges. However, it’s not cluttered, nor does it detract from acute attention to detail, like the women’s body language or Shelby and her mother M’Lynn’s (Betsy West) side glances and mouthing conversations during others’ dialogues. The rural Louisiana backdrop is made prominent with snappy Southern quips, which they use along with lightheartedness to cope with life’s hurdles. During the climactic scene when M’Lynn breaks down, tears welled throughout the audience, laughter made its way through tears as Clairee (Barbara Smith) offered up grouchy Ouiser as a punching bag.
With that, West stole the show, and Smith conjured a near-perfect performance. All the actors delivered, and even blond likeable Vicki Pugmire—cast as the dry, venom-spitting Ouiser—eventually was able to capture the audience. And, aside from a few stuttered lines and inauthentic Southern accents, they still evoked emotions built around camaraderie, love and loss. Pinnacle’s production transcends time, age and gender.