Dallas Theater Center’s STEEL MAGNOLIAS – A Review By Gadi Elkon

My favorite line from Steel Magnolias is by Ouiser, "I'm not crazy…I've just been in a very bad mood for 40 years."  Thanks to the Dallas Theater Center's Stay Late after opening night the wonderful Liz Mikel let us all in on a secret about that line in particular.  I'll reveal that intriguing tale and here is my full review of Dallas Theater Center's production of STEEL MAGNOLIAS.

Liz Mikel (Truvy) was able to be apart of the Dallas Museum of Art's Arts and Letters Live program last month with Steel Magnolias author Robert Harling.  Not only did she let us know that Harling's push to write the story came from hearing his nephew call his step-mother mom.  He couldn't live with the knowledge that his sister had fought so hard to have a child through the pain of Diabetes.  Liz also shared the powerful line above was an ad-lib in the original staged production.  The scene called for some type of retort from Quiser and Robert told his actress say something like this and that classic line was born.  As Harling has stated before, the lines in the book, play and movie all seem like the bumper sticker lines he'd hear from the ladies in the shop when he was younger.  

Dallas Theater Center's production of Steel Magnolias originally scared me for how could they stay fresh and funny in one setting for more than 2 hours.  I was completely wrong and can now tell you that this production is one of the funniest I've ever seen at the Wyly Theatre.  The full female cast and full female backstage team, minus Director Joel Ferrell have out done themselves this time.  The one liners stand the test of time and tear through race, sex and political belief as each lady has multiple moments of pure hilarious joy.  Granted the second act of the play dives into the reality of what diabetes could do back a few decades ago and the drama does hit you hard.  But even in the saddest moments you find yourself laughing like the ladies.  A production that defies the laws of humor in that it never allows you more than a few breaths of hair spray before you're laughing again.

It's hard to distinguish which of the actresses shines brightest between Liz Mikel, Sally Nystuen Vahle, Christie Vela, Ana Hagedorn, Tiana Kaye Blair and Nance Williamson.  You find yourself agreeing with each one along the way.  Mikel's Truvy is the rock of the production and battles along as the always reliable owner of the shop.  Christie Vela is by far the most internalized character but her explosive nature leads to the most moving moment in the second act.  Ana Hagedorn character is the most mysterious and quirky of the bunch and holds true to the end.  Tiana Kaye Blair's portrayal is the most haunting and yet most beloved as she is the one you hold the most empathic moments with.  She is the hugger of the group too.  But secretly the war between Sally Nystuen Vahle and Nance's elderly ladies allows for the plays most dynamic lines.  I brought up laughing through tears earlier, and that is weird combo of emotion is most evident in one of the best scenes I've seen on stage this year.   Nance Williamson and Sally Vahle impact Christie Vela's emotional cry of help by giving one of the most physical comedic acts in the play and that scene brought the house down for the production I was watching.  I can't say I've laughed this much during a production.  Robert Harling's words may have tried to capture a certain time in a certain place in his life, but boy does it seem to speak to all of us about all of our life's choices.

Steel Magnolias is only at the DTC's Wyly Theater through October 21st and so you HAVE to go see this now!  

Everything you need can be found on the DTC Steel Magnolias site.    

From a small salon in Chinquapin, Louisian to your heart and soul Steel Magnolias is the perfect fall treat.