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Faces & Places Ministries

When most people think of Steel Magnolias, they think of the star-studded 1989 movie that earned a young Julia Roberts her first Oscar nomination.
While it is enjoyable, Herb Ross’ film overdoes the pathos of Robert Harling’s play and changes it substantially by including male characters and using various locations.
However, the stage production unifies these magnolias and set them apart from what the movie gave them.
The funny, heartwarming production falls is a true testament to the love and friendship that these women share. It has a talented cast and is set in just one location, a beauty parlor in Chinquapin, Louisiana. Truvy (Betsy Beck, Tyrone) presides over the establishment, which serves as gossip central for the small town.
At the start of the play, she hires the shy Annelle (Linda Peachy, Huntingdon) as her new assistant. We then meet Clairee (Jane Pilch, Alexandria), a well-dressed widow with an acerbic sense of humor. “Janet is the current mayor’s wife,” she says matter of factly. “We hate her.” Clairee particularly enjoys teasing and taunting Ouiser (Joyce Kennedy, Altoona), a well-to-do neighbor with a foul disposition. “I’m not crazy,” Ouiser says. ” I’ve just been in a very bad mood for 40 years.”
The writer Robert Harling has a knack for writing amusing quips, and his characters rattle them off with regularity. Truvy gets some of the best ones, such as, “Time marches on–and eventually you realize it’s marching across your face.” Another sharp-witted member of the beauty-parlor clique is M’Lynn (Donna Derdel, State College), who lives across the street. Her crazy husband has been shooting birds all morning, driving Ouiser (and her ugly dog, Rhett) nuts. M’Lynn’s pretty daughter, Shelby (Jayne McPhail, Tyrone), is about to marry a good ol’ boy named Jackson. Shelby’s favorite color is pink, which naturally figures prominently in the wedding decor. “That sanctuary looks like it’s been hosed down with Pepto-Bismol,” M’Lynn cracks.
The touching part comes when Shelby, who is diabetic, becomes sick. In the play, Harling gracefully balances the pathos and comedy, without letting the sad parts overshadow the laughs.
Fortunately, despite the poignant moments, director Drew Baker keeps the tone light most of the time. And his fabulous cast follows suit. As M’Lynn, Derdel is magnificent. She can be droll one minute and heartbreaking the next.  But she may have competition from her co-stars. Pilch who is so charming  as Clairee, delivers her biting lines–including the famous “If you don’t have anything nice to say about anyone, come sit by me”–with incredible vibrance. Betsy Beck also gets her share of laughs as the lovable Truvy. Considering her years on stage in various roles, she is more suited for the role than one might expect (and much subtler than Dolly Parton was in the movie). As for Kennedy, she rounds out the cast well for Ouiser. Mason looks  dowdy, sloppy, and not to mention much of a recluse. Peachy is quietly believable as the born-again Annelle and brings the Gospel message to life through her character. McPhail is appealing, yet soft as the vivacious but sickly Shelby.
With its zingy dialogue and likable Southern characters, it’s no wonder the show is produced so often. Besides being funny, it’s sweet and believable. It’s no wonder the play rings true, because the characters are based on Harling’s family and neighbors. (His sister was the model for Shelby, and their mother and her friends inspired the other characters.)
The true heart of this production comes through with Annelle’s relationship with Jesus Christ and how she uses that faith to comfort the other women in the beauty shop.
Faces & Places Ministries proudly presents two stops on a small tour of this heartwarming, soul touching production on Saturday, June 7 at 7:30 p.m. at St. Matthew’s Harkins Hall, Tyrone, then again on Sunday, June 8 at 4 p.m. at The Clifton 5, Huntingdon.
Tickets are available by calling (814) 932-4085.