The Column Online



By Robert Harling

The Firehouse Theatre

Directed by Jason Leyva

Tryvy - Dayna Lyons Fries
Annelle - Taylor Donnelson
Clairee - Suzy McGeeney Dotson
Shelby - Alexandra Cassens
M'Lynn - Jenny Tucker
Ouiser - LisaAnne Haram

Reviewed Performance: 1/30/2016

Reviewed by Holly Reed, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

The modest stage of the cozy Firehouse Theatre in Farmers Branch, Texas was no match for the larger-than-life personalities of five Southern women in a small town in Louisiana. From the moment the crackling faded on Shelby’s favorite radio station and Truvy’s tacky homemade beauty shop opened its doors, this East Texas girl settled into her stadium seat and took a trip down memory lane.

I’ve been in the metroplex for around 7 years now, but spent my first 30-something years living out almost every country song in existence. Friday night football and Sunday night burgers at the DQ. There were at least 75 stray dogs buried in my parents back forty and shooting pumpkins filled with explosives was a typical Thanksgiving activity. Needless to say, the suburban life of soccer and soy lattes was a bit of an adjustment. On occasion I still head for the Pineywoods to catch my breath. This weekend I got to sneak away without ever leaving the city.

Steel Magnolias is about a group of friends who share their lives over cream rinses and Pink Pucker nail polish. Setting the show exclusively in Truvy’s backyard beauty parlor with no scene changes allowed the shop to be overly stuffed with 1980’s salon accessories. Complete with working shampoo bowls and the unmistakable smell of Aqua Net overspray, the reality of the location was well executed. Costumes were true to time and place and hairdos—of course—were paramount and played well within the context of the show. Technically, the show was flawless. Lighting was basic but adequate and even though the venue was quite small, each character was miked and thus we caught every sigh, giggle and all of Ouiser’s growls.

The nice thing about the technical aspect of the show was that I didn’t ever notice it. So many times in small, community theaters there are awkward pauses between scenes or lagging light or music cues that remind us we’re in a theatre and not in the imaginary reality the writer intended. Perhaps due to the lack of set changes and technical “frills,” but more so I believe to the talent and commitment of the brilliant actresses on stage, I never stepped off of Louisiana soil except for a brief pause at intermission.

Just as in my circles in small town East Texas, there are a variety of personalities that make up this sweet circle of friends—each with its own essential function within the group. There’s Truvy, played by Dayna S. Fries, who is a grounding spirit throughout the play even with her shallow wisdom and superficial security. It is her shop that holds the foundation of the friendships, a place where hearts are laid bare and the tribe of 5 plus one forge bonds that endure throughout victory and defeat, trial and joy, life and death. Dayna embraced sassy and sexy with a little sentimental thrown in for good measure. Shelby’s character was played by Alexandra Cassens, whose refined talent shone brightly throughout the show. Her southern drawl was precious and the difficult task of experiencing diabetic seizures in a believable and sensitive way was executed with precision. Clairee brought me the most joy to watch. Suzy Dotson was stellar in this performance and I could have sworn she was a neighbor of ours back home after watching the show. She was always the comic relief and though we saw slight appearances of her own personal demons, she was the one to catapult the group back into laughter when a serious moment bogged them down too deep. Jenny Tucker also did a marvelous job portraying M’Lynn, the self-sufficient, practical and tenaciously over-protective mother of tender and naive Shelby. Jenny fully committed to the role and my heart ached for her as I saw the war within her to protect her child or let her enjoy a brief flight outside of the nest.

What could have been a kitschy and shallow show very pleasantly overcame the potential for stock acting and stereotypical characters and instead set me in the middle of a group of ladies connected at the heart, the hip, and the hair salon. I very much felt like they might perhaps turn to me and ask what I was bringing to the covered dish luncheon and why my chickens were out again. My heart ached to lose Shelby and worried about her sweet Daddy who although never seen, was spoken of so purposefully that I expected him to come in smelling like tractor grease at any moment.

Thank you, ladies, for exemplifying Southern charm. Small town friendships are irreplaceable and a little stolen magnolia blossoms for a backyard wedding never hurt anyone (I just “stole” some from behind a rented venue last weekend. The tables were beautiful….and they’ll grow back).

It might surprise you what you’ll find in a Texas Firehouse—this one has talent a country mile wide. Enjoy a Southern sweet spot this weekend at Steel Magnolias by Farmers Branch’s Firehouse Theatre.