Steel Magnolias by Robert Harling. Directed by Jordan Best. Canberra Repertory Society. Theatre 3. Until March 1.
Canberra Rep's first production for the year is a real humdinger and a towering testament to the talented team who have brought this highly polished, hilariously funny and poignantly powerful performance of Robert Harling's Steel Magnolias to Theatre 3.
Harling wrote the play in 10 days, inspired by the tragic loss of his sister to diabetes.
Director Jordan Best directs an outstanding cast with deep concern not only for Harling's personal motive in paying tribute to his sister, but also with a skilful eye for authenticity and the obligation to truthfully depict the humour, the compassion and the camaraderie of the women of a small Southern American town.
Truvy (Rose Braybrook) has converted a carport into a stylish hair salon, superbly designed for this production by Michael Sparks, himself a native of the American South and inspired by his cousin's home salon.
Authenticity permeates every aspect of this meticulously staged production.
Truvy's salon stands as a refuge for the six women who meet to share gossip, reveal their innermost thoughts, bicker and banter in the secure knowledge of the protection of the bond of lifelong friendship.
Best draws out the best (pardon the pun) in her cast.
Braybrook's Truvy is the steady keel through sometimes rolling seas, honest, cheerful and reliable.
Only Braybrook's Southern drawl occasionally suffered bouts of incoherence.
Amy Dunham's Annelle, the insecure newcomer and impressionable religious convert, is a delight to watch.
So, too, the effervescent Shelby, played with optimistic resilience and positive defiance in the face of her debilitating diabetes by Nell Shipley.
As her mother M'Lynn, Karen Vickery's journey from the concerned parent to the angry victim of unfair fate leaves not a dry eye in the house.
Harling's acute ear and eye for Southern humour is imbued in the characters of the no-fuss Clairee (Liz Bradley) and the grumpy Ouiser (Judi Crane).
Here is an ensemble worthy of individual mention. If 90 per cent of the success of a show is in the casting, then Best's choice of cast for Steel Magnolias has hit the jackpot.
Best's decision to perform with accents is true to the text and to the play's setting and the lives of Harling's true-to-life characters.
However, it may take some audiences a short time to attune to the distinctive drawl.
Special mention should also be made of Charles Oliver's contribution with Penny Vaile to ensure that Braybrook and Dunham were well-trained in hairdressing.
It is the careful attention to detail that is not only a hallmark of Rep's high production values on stage and behind the scenes, but also a reflection of Harling's insightful, affectionate and compassionate observation of human nature.
In Truvy's salon, Harling creates a world of women's business that all men need to hear. Don't miss this production, but do take a tissue to wipe away the tears of laughter and empathy.
You will laugh and you will cry, and you will leave the theatre perhaps a little wiser than when you went in.