Encore Michigan

‘Steel Magnolias’ is a triumph at The Dio

Review February 06, 2019 Julie Linderleaf

PINCKNEY, Mich.–Southern accents, strong women, and shades of pink abound in this classic southern reenactment of the play turned movie, Steel Magnolias, written by Robert Harling and taking the stage by storm at The Dio Dining and Entertainment Theatre in Pinckney, Michigan through March 1.

Robert Harling wrote the play based on his own sister’s tragic end with diabetes. The popularity of the play prompted Harling to also write the screenplay starring Sally Field, Julia Roberts, Dolly Parton, Daryl Hannah, Shirley MacLaine, and Olympia Dukakis. This movie and play have been classics among emotional “women’s” dramas for over 30 years and still wetting eyes everywhere.

Unlike the movie, the entire play takes place only inside Truvy’s Hair Salon in Chinquapin, Louisiana where, even though there are other salons in town, her clients go to her because she is the best. Truvy (Carrie Sayer) opens the show as she is interviewing/trying out Annelle (McKayla Menzel) a very young, newly married/newly deserted woman trying to take care of herself now.

Since Truvy’s is the salon for anyone who is anyone, Truvy is getting ready for one of the town’s favorite daughters, Shelby’s (Molly Cunningham) wedding. As it is in all salons, confidence, life details, advice, and secrets are shared between wash, dry, and styling. The deceased ex-mayor’s wife, Clairee, (Olive Hayden-Moore), and Shelby’s mom, M’Lynn (Wendy Katz Hiller) add to the comedy and drama where getting beautiful always happens.

Not only did Carrie Sayer need to remember lines, cues, and movement blocking, she needed to also know how to style hair too! It was impressive to watch Molly Cunningham enter that stage in curls during Act one, and watch Carrie actually remove the curlers and style Molly’s hair into a traditional wedding updo! It’s during this scene where information is discovered about Shelby’s history with diabetes, as well as the neighboring conflicts over guns and magnolias with Ouiser (Kathleen Wilmoth), her overly stressed out dog, and Shelby’s dad.

The entire play, ably directed by Steve DeBruyne, covers a time span of almost 3 years. The women in this play deal with weddings, sickness, babies, religion, and the men in their lives. Unlike the movie, the men are just pieces to their stories and are only heard, not seen, on the stage. These women show that they are made steel at times, yet soft, like the magnolias blossoms on the trees in the south: such the iconic metaphoric title.

The second act shifts months into the future where life brings lots of drama to the lives of these six women. “You can’t live life if all you do is worry,” Shelby’s tells her mother. Wendy Katz Hiller as M’Lynn has the most powerful monologue at the end of act two which is delivered with so much power and emotion there are real tears in the eyes of every actress on the stage and many of the audience members too. The depth of emotion Hiller reaches had great intensity and drive–her pain coming across so real and so raw.

The set was designed perfectly by Matt Tomich complete with an elevated waiting settee, so it too could be visible to the audience. The pink walls, a working ceiling fan and neon sign in the window showcase a salon in the late 80’s. Even the music selected to play between scenes or on the radio were right on par. Tomich really is the jack of all trades when it comes to anything technical at The Dio.

“I’d rather have 30 minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special,” Shelby tells this to her mom when she announced her pregnancy that defied her doctor’s orders. The Dio gives you a total of about four hours of wonderful with a filling southern meal and a tear-jerking production, but tickets are going fast. Don’t miss out on your chance to see this emotional drama. It just may make you cry in your chocolate pudding! I did!