It has often been analogized that a person’s hairdresser is one’s own personal psychologist, someone you can share just about any intimate detail about your life with, say whatever you need to get out and leave it right there in the secured privacy of your styling chair. The role of hairstylists is more than just about giving your hair a ‘lick and a promise’. It is a fully unique and multi-faceted role — part friend, part parent, part confessor, part adviser and so much more. Robert Harling uses the familiarity and comfort of a mom and pop beauty shop as a device to reflect the love, anger, frustration, and the friendship ties that bind of six wholly unique and completely real southern women in his modern southern masterpiece Steel Magnolias. These women use Truvy’s beauty shop as not only a place to get their hair done, but as a homebase, a place for solace from the outside world. Whenever there is a pressing issue, when comfort and reassurance is needed the ladies head over to the shop, seeking refuge, advice, or just a place to relax and not worry about anything else, whether they actually need their hair done or not.
Growing up in the south in the late 1980’s and going to college in the deep south of Mississippi, I had my own personal experiences with small town beauty parlors having two aunts owning and running their own southern styling sanctuaries. I often accompanied my mother as she would go to ‘visit with’ my aunts Jeannie or Sandra, getting her hair done, chatting about crazy relatives and neighbors or telling things I knew weren’t about to leave that room. There was always a pot of coffee brewing, some sort of sweets sitting around in a dish, music filling the air, and the smell of perms and aqua net filtering through the air ducts. Elements that seemed to put customers in a trance, a truth serum if you will, allowing them to become their true selves for a couple of hours a week.
The women of Chinquapin Parish, Louisiana are real southern women, struggling with real issues of love and marriage, insecurity, grief and loneliness. They are also women we all know in one way or another. We’ve met them before out there at a family reunion, fish fry, wedding reception or even at your own local beauty boutique. When you come to the theatre you may be sitting next to one of them, pointing at your friend saying “That is so you!”. And that is the idea with this production of Steel Magnolias. That sense of comfort, familiarity and friendship that is universal, an experience where you can say, “I’ve been to that salon. I know these people.”