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Laugh through your tears with Charleston Stage's Steel Magnolias

A Southern Story

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The strong bonds of sisterhood are at the heart of Robert Harling's Steel Magnolias, which follows a tight-knit group of six women in a fictional Louisiana town. Shelby, M'Lynn, Ouiser, Clairee, and Annelle regularly gather at Truvy's in-home beauty parlor to gossip and banter, to encourage and console.

"You're going to laugh a lot when you see this show," says Jesse Siak, who is directing Charleston Stage's production. "You're going to relate to all of the characters, different moments with all of them. And it's short, it's sweet, and it's to the point. And you really get immersed in this Southern life that these girls have and the community they have and the family they have."

"We're a Southern town putting on a Southern show, and everybody loves that," says Liz Duren, who plays M'Lynn. "And we're not making fun of the South. What I love about this play is when I first opened it, there's an author's note, and he says that you are not allowed to do this production as a caricature. These are real people, and he wants them portrayed like real people."

The emotional linchpin of Steel Magnolias lies in the mother-daughter dynamic between M'Lynn and Shelby. Shelby has type 1 diabetes, and the complications from her condition are often a source of stress and conflict for the pair. For example, much to her mother's dismay, Shelby is determined to have a child despite the dangers of a high-risk pregnancy.

"They love each other more than anything, but they can also be critical of each other," Siak says. "It's kind of like the relationship of the mother and daughter in [the film] Lady Bird, where one second they're kind of picking at each other and fighting, and in the next they're talking about how much they love that short haircut."

For Duren, the emotionally charged relationship between M'Lynn and Shelby is familiar. "As a mother, I get it," she says. "Mothers and daughters are just the most complicated of relationships, and you have those times when you just want to take them and you strangle each other. But the love is so deep. They're clearly very close. They're very good friends. They work each other's nerves, but in the end, they support each other, and the love that they have for each other transcends all the other things."

Part of the enduring appeal of Steel Magnolias is that even during the play's more somber moments, Harling still ties in elements of levity.

"There's a line that Truvy says — and I think it's one of the best lines in the play — she says to the effect of, 'Laughter through the tears is one of my favorite emotions,'" Siak says. "And something I always believe in is that there can be humor and lightness in every situation."

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