Meet the Ladies of Steel Magnolias 

Idaho Shakespeare Festival pours some Southern comfort.

Front row: Allegra Edwards; second row: Lynn Allison, Laura Perrotta, Carole Healey, Kathryn Cherasaro and Becca Ballenger; third row: Raquel Davis, Sari Ketter, Sarah Kelso, Ann Price and 9-month-old Mason.

Laurie Pearman

Front row: Allegra Edwards; second row: Lynn Allison, Laura Perrotta, Carole Healey, Kathryn Cherasaro and Becca Ballenger; third row: Raquel Davis, Sari Ketter, Sarah Kelso, Ann Price and 9-month-old Mason.

Steel Magnolias

Opens Friday, Sept. 5, runs through Sunday, Sept. 28. Times vary, $18-$69. Idaho Shakespeare Festival, 5657 Warm Springs Ave., 208-336-9221, idahoshakespeare.org.

We didn't have an appointment at Truvy's Beauty Spot, but we did take a bottle of wine. By the time Boise Weekly arrived at Idaho Shakespeare Festival on a hot August night, the Louisiana ladies had already popped the cork on a nicely chilled Chablis.

"Come on in," the women said. "Hope you don't mind; we started without you."

Hell's bells, no, we didn't mind. We were tickled pink just to sit a spell among the bottles of pink nail polish and cans of Aqua Net hairspray as the beauteous bevy prepared to open up shop Friday, Sept. 5, for 21 performances of Steel Magnolias, the final show of Idaho Shakespeare Festival's 2014 season.

"Honestly, I think Steel Magnolias is on its way to being a classic," said Carole Healey.

Healey plays Clairee Belcher; Lynn Allison is Ouiser ("Yes, that rhymes with geezer," she said with a sly smile) Boudreaux; Becca Ballenger is Annelle Dupuy Desoto; Kathryn Cherasaro plays Truvy Jones (her in-home salon is where much of the play's action takes place); Laura Perrotta is Mary Lynn "M'lynn" Eatenton; and Allegra Edwards is Shelby Eatenton Latcherie, the role that, in the play's screen adaptation, catapulted Julia Roberts into stardom and her first Oscar nomination.

"A lot of people know the movie, but the play feels quite different," said Ballenger. "Yes, those great lines are the same, but this feels so genuine. It has an amazing energy."

It also has some amazing hair.

"I actually start out the play with a mullet when I first walk into Truvy's," said Ballenger with a huge laugh. "But I end up with a big perm, as do a few of the ladies."

The wigs of Steel Magnolias should probably get their own star billing.

"Oh, yes, the hair is a very big deal," says Edwards.

And it is very big hair--Louisiana wedding hair, in particular. The first scene in Steel Magnolias is set in Truvy's salon on Shelby's wedding day.

"We've been working a lot on my wedding-day hair. Miss Kathryn (Cherasaro) gave me my first 'updo' yesterday--the first updo of many updos I'll have over the next four weeks. And that hair is so helpful in rounding out our characters. I think our hair reflects a lot of what's going on inside, for Shelby in particular. She's super romantic in that first scene."

Anyone who has seen Steel Magnolias--either the play or immensely popular film--knows Shelby's life dramatically alters through this emotional opus. She has Type 1 diabetes and some of Shelby's choices, realistic and unrealistic, will test her family, friends and ultimately, the audience.

"Some part of me wants to believe that everything with Shelby will be all right," said Perrotta, who plays Shelby's mother M'Lynn, a woman whose faith and courage are lost and restored. "This play was written by Robert Harling, in large part, because he was afraid that memory of his sister might be lost."

Harling penned Steel Magnolias following the 1985 death of his sister. who died of diabetic complications after giving birth to Harling's namesake nephew. In 1987, the play was an instant off-Broadway smash and became a 1989 Oscar-nominated film.

"He wrote that play in 10 days; think of that, 10 days," said Sari Ketter, director of ISF's production. "But I think what's truly extraordinary is that a man wrote these amazing female characters."

In December 2013, Ketter got a phone call from ISF Producing Artistic Director Charlie Fee asking her to spend a good chunk of summer in Boise, helming Steel Magnolias.

"The first thing you need to know about how Sari directs is how much research she does," said Perrotta, pointing to a huge stack of binders that could double as a small law library.

"What I found was that the characters of Steel Magnolias are surprisingly deep--their histories, their relationships with one another and of course, the men in their lives," said Ketter.

That's an important distinction from the movie: The original play doesn't include male characters. The women of Chinquapin (CHEEK-ah-pee-in) Parish dish about men, but the play's pulse beats from the hearts of these six diverse women. And one of the things that makes them so unique is the particular accent of their community.

"As soon as I said yes to directing, the very next thing I told Charlie [Fee] was that I had to have Ann Price," said Ketter, referring to the production's voice and dialect coach. "Ann is with us every day of rehearsal, and I told Charlie that I wouldn't do this if she wasn't available."

Right on cue, Price walked into the room, bouncing 9-month-old grandson, Mason, in her arms, a rare male entering this all-female domain. The cast took turns cuddling Mason as Price pulled up a chair to talk about the voice of Steel Magnolias.

"It's so charming," said Price. "There's a little bit of drawl from the Louisiana Delta and a little bit of twang because it's close to Texas."

Healey offered an example.

"In the Delta, you'll hear people say 'motha,' 'fatha,' or 'brotha.' [mother, father or brother]," Healey said. "But this accent adds the R, because we're closer to Texas. But that R has a lilt. It's not one of those hard R's that make you sound like you're in the Ozarks. Our accent is like being in a comfortable, lovely old chair."

(For the record, Healey said everything in a spot-on Chinquapin accent, much to Price's delight.)

As the wine bottles emptied, the ISF rehearsal space--fully converted to become Truvy's beauty salon, complete with swivel chairs, mirrors and an endless list of all-things-pink--had become filled with the warm relationships between the women of Steel Magnolias. Cherasaro, as Truvy, was feeling right at home.

"This shop is an extension of who Truvy is. You take the make-up off and put the curlers in. And it's a safe, intimate place," said Cherasaro. "You come in and you're family."

When BW asked to take a parting photograph, the ladies of Steel Magnolias made sure their family photo included Ketter, Price, lighting designer Raquel Davis and stage manager Sarah Kelso--plus one lucky guy to fuss over: 9-month-old Mason.

See a slideshow of the ladies of Steel Magnolia by clicking here.

Slideshow
Meet the Ladies of Steel Magnolias

Meet the Ladies of Steel Magnolias

Idaho Shakespeare Festival performances begin Friday, September 5 and continue, Tuesdays through Sundays, until Sunday, Sept. 28.

By Laurie Pearman and George Prentice

Click to View 17 slides

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