Talented six-women cast brings to life sweet magic of 'Steel Magnolias'

Pemads mines comedy gold

‘Steel Magnolias’ is a laugh a minute with actresses, from left, Vanessa Smith, Yolande Farrow , Kerry Allen and, front, Kasvia von Memerty
‘Steel Magnolias’ is a laugh a minute with actresses, from left, Vanessa Smith, Yolande Farrow , Kerry Allen and, front, Kasvia von Memerty
Image: Chris Gertsch

If plays were food, the Port Elizabeth Music and Dramatic Society’s latest production, Steel Magnolias, would be a bowl of chocolate ice cream – sweet, sentimental and an instant mood-lifter.

Set between 1986 and 1988 in Truvy’s beauty salon in the fictional town of Chinquapin, Louisiana, the play has been beloved by many for decades – and the six talented actresses, along with their female director, nailed it on Wednesday’s opening night at the Athenaeum.

In a nutshell, the show starts at Truvy’s where she has a new assistant, Anelle (who is not sure whether or not she is still married).

She shyly watches as Truvy dishes out free advice along with a shampoo and cut to the town’s rich and crotchety Ouiser; eccentric millionaire Miss Clairee, and the local social leader M’Lynn, whose daughter, Shelby, is about to marry a “good ol’ Southern boy”.

The sentimental story, although ultimately ending in tragedy, is comedy gold.

The production’s plot is not necessarily the most substantial but the power of the play comes from the tight bond that develops between the endearing women – and of course the witty one-liners which are delivered fast and furiously.

Director Lesley Barnard has done a stellar job firstly through her casting and then by ensuring that the two youngest members of the cast – Kasvia von Memerty (Shelby) and Gemma Barnard (Anelle) – are able to match up to doyennes of Port Elizabeth stages Robin Williams (Ouiser) and Yolande Farrow (Miss Clairee).

Rounding up the six-women cast are Kerry Allen (Truvy) and Vanessa Smith (M’Lynn), who both do an excellent job.

The magic created by the actresses is formed through a combination of their comedic timing, the feeling of a real depth of affection and their ability to give equal attention to the comedy and the tragedy.

Allen in particular stepped up in spectacular fashion, moving from production secretary to actress when the original Truvy was unable to continue with the show.

It might well have been one of the happiest disasters to strike the show as, from the walk to the voice, she plays the ditzy Truvy with sensitivity and charm.

But it is Williams who steal the show in a role that could easily be overplayed or degenerate into a caricature.

Williams commands the stage as soon as she barges through the salon door and effortlessly wins laughs just seconds into her first line.

Her Southern accent is phenomenal (all the actresses handled this well) and her facial expressions a hoot.

She has the sort of energy youngsters starting their stage careers would do well to emulate, yet she knows when to rein it in to ensure her character remains genuine.

While her stand-out performance is wonderful to watch, it is the chemistry between all the actresses that ensures the show is a hit.

Even the best performances could not work in isolation and it is the way the women feed off each other that makes the production so successful.

That, and the fact that the set and costumes have obviously been carefully planned, with the purple and lime green chairs perfectly summing up the garish 1980s.

All in all the show, chosen by Pemads to run during Women’s Month, is a resounding success and the standing ovation the cast received on opening night was well deserved.

The show runs until August 24.

Tickets are available from Computicket at R90 each.