Laughs and charm flow in CAT’s Steel Magnolias

A classic story of friendship and the ups and downs of life is currently being staged by Central Alberta Theatre.

Directed by Albertus Koett, Steel Magnolias is running on the City Centre Stage through to Nov. 16. Curtin is at 7:30 p.m. with a matinee slated for Nov. 10 at 2 p.m. as well.

Steel Magnolias is a comedy–drama about the bond among a group of southern women in Louisiana. The title suggests the “Female characters are as delicate as magnolias but as tough as steel.” Written by Robert Harling, the show stars Tori Grebinski, Trina Penner, Jennifer Barritt, Angel Paulsen, Beryl Starke and Vicki Dykes.

The action centers on Truvy’s beauty parlour and the women who regularly gather there. The story begins on the morning of Shelby’s wedding to Jackson and covers events over the next three years, including her decision to have a child despite having Type 1 diabetes and the complications that result.

There is also a glimpse of the unlikely friendship between Clairee and Ouiser; Annelle’s transformation from a shy, anxious newcomer in town to a good-time girl and then to a revival-tent Christian and Truvy’s relationships with the men in her family.

Although the main storyline involves Shelby (Barritt), her mother M’Lynn (Paulsen) and Shelby’s medical battles, the underlying group-friendship among all six women is prominent throughout. The stage version is all set in the hair salon, and only the six are featured as opposed to the 1989 film which of course has many sets and additional characters.

Still performed worldwide to this day, the play has been translated in 17 languages, including Japanese, Chinese, French, Swedish, Spanish, Italian. Shortly after writing the story, Harling went on to adapt the screenplay for the film version of the play starring Sally Field and Julia Roberts.

CAT’s version rolls along at a gentle, engaging pace but there are plenty of moments of sharply-performed humour as well. There is also plenty of poignancy too – the beauty of Steel Magnolias is how it covers a range of emotions as the story moves along. Each character gets their fair share of great lines, and the cast in general lives up to the demands of the play.

As Truvy, Penner is especially outstanding – in many ways being the ‘centrepiece’ of the plot. Everything takes place in her beauty shop, and Penner captures Truvey’s tender yet bold and enormously funny personality really well.

Starke and Barritt, newcomers to the CAT stage, prove to be quite gifted when it comes to capturing the nuances of the story as well – both have a natural sense of comic timing that shines throughout, plus they handle the more intense moments of the play well, too.

Paulsen also provides a strong interpretation of M’Lynn, as both a funny, charming southern lady and a fiercely protective and devoted mother.

And of course, anyone who has seen the movie knows about the outrageous outbursts and antics of Ouiser, played superbly by Dykes.

Koett has brought it all together beautifully.

On opening night there were the occasional stalls, but over time these will certainly be worked out as the plot will tighten and get a bit snappier. But all involved should be commended for a well-rendered and pleasing rendition of a tremendously popular stage production.

They’ve really made Steel Magnolias their own, and it’s great to see that much care and attention poured into what has turned out to be a sweet, funny and moving production.

Tickets are available at the Black Knight Inn Ticket Centre by calling 403-755-6626 or visiting