Plaza Theatre opens its fourth season by straying slightly from its usual production choice.
The Plaza has built its reputation and audience by providing sterling productions of tried and true musical theater — “Music Man,” “Singing in the Rain” — and offbeat, slapstick plays— “Don’t Drink the Water,” “Arsenic and Old Lace.”
With “Steel Magnolias” it sticks its toe into slightly deeper emotional waters.
The 1987 play, written by Robert Harling, is probably more familiar to audiences from the 1989 film staring Sally Field and Julia Roberts.
Although the play is chock full of hilarious situations and one liners, it is, in the end, a three-tissue, tear jerker that will leave you emotionally exhausted.
Don’t be scared off by the emotional commitment. Plaza’s “Steel Magnolias” is a masterpiece of ensemble acting.
The story revolves around the trials and tribulations of six southern women and their topsy-turvy lives.
Trich Zaitoon plays Truvy, the local “glamour technician” like a velvet hurricane.
Truvy is a woman not to be trifled with but who, at her core, is as loving as they come.
Zaitoon plays Truvy with just the right mixture of vinegar, honey and high energy.
Camille Shaw plays beauty shop newcomer Annelle.
Annelle has the widest character arc of all the women, and Shaw portrays her with depth and a silly grace.
This is easily Shaw’s best performance at Plaza, and she has a walk-in closet full of good ones.
Clairee, the widowed wife of the mayor, is aptly played by Barbara Rose.
Clairee supplies the genteel, southern grace to the beauty parlor, and Rose is more than up to the task.
Her sophisticated charm and biting wit provide balance to the humor.
Rose plays Claree like a cloudy summer day — you think it is nice and cool until too late you realize you have been burnt to a crisp.
Danielle Beacham plays young, diabetic Shelby. Much of the story revolves around Shelby’s struggle to balance her health and desire for a family.
Beacham’s performance is wholeheartedly beautiful and believable.
Beacham also directs the proceeding, and if last year’s directorial turn on “Cash on Delivery” wasn’t proof enough, with “Steel Magnolias” she marks herself as a young director to keep an eye on.
She is a remarkable talent both on the stage and in the director’s chair.
Shelby’s mother, M’lynn is gracefully portrayed by Barbara Richardson. M’Lynn is torn between justifiable concern for her daughter’s health and all parents’ desire to see their children grow up and start a life and family of their own.
Richardson’s performance is gripping and heart wrenching. Hers is a soul bearing performance of every parent’s worst nightmare.
If Zaitoon plays Truvy like a velvet hurricane, Mildred Austin dispenses with the velvet and let’s loose a Category Five in her portrayal of Ouiser, the next door neighbor with an attitude.
“I’m not crazy; I’ve just been in a bad mood for the last 40 years,” Ouiser says of her disposition most of the time.
Austin commands attention every second she is on stage, and that is not an easy task with these ladies.
Although “Steel Magnolias” requires more of an emotional investment than most Plaza shows, it is well worth the time.
These six actresses are as strong an ensemble as you will see on the same stage.
This is a performance that will be remembered for a long time by everyone lucky enough to experience it.
See “Steel Magnolias” while you have the good fortune to do so.
Performances of “Steel Magnolias” run through April 24. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, with two performances Saturdays at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. For information, call 817-202-0600 or visit www.plaza-theatre.com.