In her directorial debut, Kelsey Layton has a big success on her hands. Steel Magnolias, which is playing at the Bastrop Opera House, is a sheer delight.
“I’m used to being on the stage performing,” she said in an interview for Sun News. “I’ve been a performer all my life and attended NYU’s School of Arts – I have a BFA in Theatre. I decided it’s time for me to get back and share everything that I know and allow other people to shine and sparkle. I feel like you’re going to see that today. They worked so hard, I’m so proud of them.”
The engaging set design has an interesting story as well. “My husband and I co-designed the set. We started months ago, little by little getting piece by piece from Facebook Marketplace to Craig’s list, to the side of the road for free and painting it. It was a labour of love for me but I just wanted my ladies to have a beautiful space to work in and I wanted the audience to have something beautiful to look at when they came in.”
Steel Magnolias was already a notable element in Layton’s own life. “Of course I grew up watching the movie. Anytime it was on TV I’d watch it, even if was already half-way done! I love this movie. My grandma, my Mom, my sister: it hits close to home for me. These ladies are from Louisiana and I’m from Alabama, so I’m a Southern girl myself. I get this environment, I know these women. It wasn’t until I was an adult though that I realized the movie was based on the play, written by Robert Harling. He also wrote the screenplay for the movie as well. You’ll find that a lot of the dialogue in the play is exactly the same from the movie, which is amazing and very rare. Harling was also a consultant: he and his mother were on set with Julia Roberts, Olivia Dukakis and the others during their scenes.”
Cast members are Candice Carraway, Sophia Gutierrez, Terri Bennett, Sarah Martin, Christina Burbank Shelton and Judith Laird. They synergize perfectly as an ensemble, and under Layton’s direction each one sparkles, just as she hoped. Carraway gets the lead role as the hairstylist Truvy (played in the film by Dolly Parton). With dialogue chocked full of bon mots and zippy one-liners, she clearly relished delivering all of these in the Southern style. But Truvy is not the only one to get great lines.
The strangely-named Ouiser, played by Laird, says “I’m not crazy, I’ve just been in a very bad mood for 40 years!” And in a line directly aimed at the audience, she says “I don’t go to plays because I can take a nap at home for free.”
You won’t want to nap through any of this production, which does full justice to the original. These Southern gals deal with life (and death) as the hand of fate is dealt to them. How each responds, in her own unique way, is the heart and soul of the story. While we never see any men, their off-stage lives are just as much a part of the story, and the gay subtext here got the biggest laughs of the show.
Excellent set, costumes, and acting. Just what you want from a theatrical experience. Make that 45-minute trip from Austin to see it!
Steel Magnolias is playing thru Sept. 3, 2023.
Visit the website for tickets: www.bastropoperahouse.org
Photos by C. Cunningham