The Placer Performance Calendar


Great Local Shows - Theatrical Reviews

Title Steel Magnolias
Organization William Jessup University
Date(s) of show April 17-26, 2015
Reviewer Dick Frantzreb
Review I’m one of the few people who haven’t seen the movie version of Steel Magnolias. Actually, I had confused that movie with another that I didn’t like, and initially I didn’t want to see William Jessup University’s production of Steel Magnolias. What a mistake that would have been!

The play was performed in a large field house that was hard to find with no signage. The building dwarfed the audience, which I would guess at a few hundred a good showing for a Sunday afternoon. The performance was introduced by Department Chair, Derek Martin, who talked at length about the success of the previous musicals, about Director Brance Cornelius and Costume Designer Ardith Gray, and about the Creative Arts program at WJU which is “trying to create the next generation of believer artists.” He noted that this is only the third production mounted by WJU’s Department of Creative Arts and the first non-musical.

Despite the cavernous venue, I felt an intimacy in the setting of this show. The stage was elevated some 4 feet above the audience so the action was easily visible. The actors’ voices also carried well in the large high-ceilinged space, so the dialog was easy to follow. The set itself was a marvel. It didn’t change during the 4 acts of the play, but the detail was remarkable, a perfect replica of a small-town, Louisiana beauty shop.

The show itself is distinguished from the movie in that there are only 6 characters the women who share gossip, clash and ultimately support each other through tragedy, all in the confines of the beauty shop. The success of the play rests on the believability of their interactions with one another, and they pulled it off beautifully, right down to their consistent southern accents.

No doubt it was the skilful hand of experienced director Brance Cornelius that made this play work so well. But the 6 actresses were each outstanding in their parts. New York-bound senior Kelly Dunn gave the pivotal performance as Truvy, the big-hearted beauty shop owner. Allison Coupe was Annelle, the newcomer to town, and she impressed me with her versatility, as her character evolved the most throughout the show. Atlantah Hoag just sparkled with naturalness and personality as Shelby, the young bride and mother whose death gives the show its tragic twist. Kayla Krogh played M’Lynn, Shelby’s mother, and her monologue of grieving toward the end of the show was simply riveting. I can still remember the initial trembling of her hand and then her whole body, as her breakdown developed. The curmudgeonly Ouiser, was played by Rebekah Naomi Ayala, and I was constantly delighted by her comic sense. And Ciara Anderson was the perfect foil to Ouiser, bringing out the comedy of what amounted to a friendly jousting between the two.

The drama provided by these young women was engaging, and there were times when I involuntarily commented to the friend sitting next to me: “She’s really good!” Ultimately, though, these actresses had good material to work with. I was impressed with the writing, and there were many lines that were so thought-provoking that I would like to get the script and read it, just to ponder some of those ideas at leisure. On one level, the play felt like an extended conversation, and what made it work so well was the good timing of the performers in making that conversation seem natural.

From the beginning, it was the comedy in the show that won the audience over. With witty dialog and comic situations, it seemed like no more than a minute went by without a laugh. Toward the end though, we were taken on a rollercoaster of emotion. And speaking for those of us who had been on and enjoyed the ride, Truvy said, “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.”

As I write this, there are only 3 more performances in the short run of this production.  If you catch one of them, you will be glad you did.  And looking to the future, the Department of Creative Arts at William Jessup University has established itself as a bright and rising star among local theater companies.

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