I just saw Steel Magnolias at The Rubicon Theatre. I found the all star cast highly entertaining and the the beautifully crafted set a perfect vehicle to allow me to be a comfortable voyeur into the lives of these six women. However, the truth is, I spent most of the play silently applauding Robert Harling. Because he adapted his play into a film brilliantly.
Often, I see plays first and then lament the adaptation. Two of my favorite plays; Marsha Norman’s ‘night Mother and David Lindsay-Abaire‘s Rabbit Hole were both adapted into extremely mediocre films. Yesterday, as I watched Steel Magnolias unfold, I marveled at the way Harling chose to flawlessly open up his play. Every major character mentioned offstage: Drum Eatenton, Jackson Latcherie, Sammy Desoto, and Owen Jenkens all translated into a fully fleshed out characters in the film. Even minor character mentions, such as the off color Marmillion family and Shelby’s younger brothers earned solid cameos. This is best illustrated in gifted playwright Sam Shepard’s brilliant portrayal of Truvy’s husband Spud, who was simply a few references in the play. His dynamic character practically jumped off of the screen, proving that there are no such things as small roles.
In addition to the offstage characters whom Harling introduced in the film, he did a terrific job opening up the events of the play. While the entire play takes place in Truvy’s beauty salon, the film takes full advantage of the colorful setting of Natchitoches, Louisiana and envelops the audience in the colorful character of the small southern town.
Lastly, Harling does a great job taking full advantage of all of his smart one liners and inspired references, giving them their own scenes: A one line reference to the red velvet armadillo grooms cake becomes an iconic scene in the film.
M’Lynn, Truv, Ouiser, Annelle, Clairee and Shelby are six beautifully conceived characters whose strength, determination and sass translated from the stage to the screen flawlessly.