"Steel Magnolias" - by Robert Harling - Cannon Theatre (Devens, MA.) - REVIEW

(Cover Photo: The CAST of "STEEL MAGNOLIAS" by Robert Harling now playing at Cannon Theatre in Devens, MA. through November 12, 2023. Photo Credit Shawn Cannon)

By Kevin T. Baldwin

METRMAG Reviewer

# 774-242-6724

“He was a Louisiana politician. We don't know many people that went to heaven.”

                                                                                            - ("Clairee") / Robert Harling 

The Cannon Theatre

Presents Robert Harling's 


Written by Robert Harling

Directed by Martha Brooks

Producer and Stage Manager Beth Drummey

Cast Includes: Cathy Koerwer as "M'Lynn; Victoria Bourque as "Shelby"; Pamela Hill as "Ouiser"; Sally Reid as "Truvy"; Carol Vancil as "Clairee"; Lexi Rock as "Annelle"

Additional Creative Team:

Tech Director and Set Build - Bret Bahe; Set and Costume Design - Shawn Cannon; Hair and Makeup - Shawn Cannon and Adrienne Nash; Sound Board Operator - Rachel Cieslik; Stagehand - Charlotte Bergstrom; Usher/Stagehand/Understudy - Claudia Haydon; Lighting Board Operator - Jake Snyder; Stage Hand - Lauren Stoller. 


October 27, 2023 through November 12, 2023

(Contact Venue for Exact Dates and Times)

THE CANNON THEATRE28 Andrews Parkway, Devens, MA.


For Tickets visit www.thecannontheatre.org


Contact Venue for Most Updated COVID-19 Safety Protocols and Information.

A little bit of Louisiana comes to Devens in the latest Cannon Theatre staging of "STEEL MAGNOLIAS"  happening now. 

Written by Robert Harling, the classic contemporary two-act play opens at the in-home beauty parlor run by owner-hairstylist Truvy (Sally Reid). 

Truvy avoids interacting with her unseen couch-bound husband by attending to a group of women who regularly gather at her salon. 

Truvy has just hired Annelle (Lexi Rock) who is new in town, having just arrived with little to her name. 

Truvy becomes like an adoptive mother to Annelle, not only hiring her but giving her a place to stay. 

Later, Annelle becomes a born-again Christian and occasionally drives the ladies of the beauty salon a little crazy. 

Based on Harling’s experience with his sister's death, Harling wrote "STEEL MAGNOLIAS" to focus on the bond among this group of women of Louisiana

Not only an iconic 1989 film and a more recent 2012 television event, the play adaptation premiered in 1987 running for over 1,100 performances until closing in 1990. Since then, it has been performed all over the country and around the world. 

While the story is firmly set in the 1980s, it still maintains a timeless quality, much of that thanks to ensemble performances such as the ones given by this fine Cannon Theatre cast.

Among Truvy's regular clientele is Clairee (Carol Vancil), who comes across as a permanent fixture at Truvy’s as she almost always seems to be there and is in no apparent hurry to leave. 

Clairee is the widow of the mayor and new owner of a sports team and local radio station. 

Vancil nails the wise and witty character of Clairee, presenting her as the perfect foil for the overbearing Ouiser (Pamela Hill), a curmudgeonly customer who has been unhappily married (twice) and has children who never call. In fact, Ouiser's only companion appears to be her unseen dog. 

Hill gives a solid performance portraying the cantankerous Ouiser who, as acerbic as she is, never comes across as a toxic personality. 

In fact, Ouiser considers the other women at the salon to be her closest friends...if, perhaps, her only friends. 

(Photo: Sally Reid as "Truvy," and Victoria Bourque as "Shelby" in a scene from "STEEL MAGNOLIAS" by Robert Harling now playing at Cannon Theatre in Devens, MA. through November 12, 2023. Photo Credit Shawn Cannon)

Two of those friends include Truvy's regular clients, the young and determined diabetic Shelby (Victoria Bourque) and her concerned mother, M'Lynn (Cathy Koerwer).

Strong-willed Shelby has come to Truvy the day of her wedding to get her hair done and has some very specific ideas, nay - "instructions" - on her desired appearance.

Seemingly overprotective mom M'Lynn, as we soon learn, is anxious - Not just for the wedding but for all of Shelby's ongoing "risky" life choices. 

M'Lynn rebukes Shelby whom she feels risks her life unnecessarily to do the things Shelby feels makes her life...or any life...worth living. 

Shelby does this, even though it increases the risk of the onset of severe, possibly fatal, medical trauma in the process. 

Portraying mother and daughter, both Koerwer and Bourque have undeniable chemistry on stage. 

Some parents and children occasionally argue. Now and then, some of that combative relationship extends well into that child's adulthood...if both are lucky. 

Here, crediting the performances of Koerwer and Bourque, you only get the sense this particular mother and daughter truly love one another.

(Photo: Cathy Koerwer as "M'Lynn" and Victoria Bourque as "Shelby" in a scene from "STEEL MAGNOLIAS" by Robert Harling now playing at Cannon Theatre in Devens, MA. through November 12, 2023. Photo Credit Shawn Cannon)

There is something instantly recognizable in these "customers" who regularly gather at Truvy’s salon – they are more than customers. 

They are a family - and this family takes care of one another throughout all their highs and lows, and throughout all their joys and sorrows. 

As the title suggests, the female characters may seem “delicate as magnolias” but they are, in fact, “tough as steel". 

Bourque’s approach to portraying not only the condition but the subject of Shelby's health is impeccable. Showing Shelby’s decision to risk her life to marry and bring forth another life into this world is not intended as an act of defiance against M’Lynn. 

Rather, it is what Shelby feels she needs to do in order to know, in her own heart, that she has fulfilled her time while here on this earth. 

It is ultimately less about what she feels validates her existence as a woman, but more about what she chooses to experience, on her own terms, while here.

Many fans of the movie will instantly notice significant differences in the stage script, most notably with the male characters, who are not present here (save for a single male voice heard on the radio), fortunately.

There are multiple sub-plots in "STEEL MAGNOLIAS" involving the unseen men in the lives of these women. 

Thankfully, those men are never seen as they would simply prove to distract from the real story here and it is a story well-executed by this tight-nit ensemble of actresses. 

(Photo: Sally Reid as "Truvy," Victoria Bourque as "Shelby," Lexi Rock as "Annelle" and Cathy Koerwer as "M'Lynn" in a scene from "STEEL MAGNOLIAS" by Robert Harling now playing at Cannon Theatre in Devens, MA. through November 12, 2023. Photo Credit Shawn Cannon)

From a director’s standpoint, while "STEEL MAGNOLIAS" may look like a fairly straightforward play to direct, there’s a LOT going on, both technically and artistically.

Director Martha Brooks, along with the entire Cannon Theatre creative team, deserves high praise for attention to detail in both of these areas. 

The required technical elements such as (but not limited to) the need of an authentic salon sink and salon hair dryer, a “functioning” radio and salon "workstations" - there are also multiple set redresses that take place, denoting the passage of time over the course of the story's couple of years. 

The clearly focused attention to detail is outstanding and any downtime for set redress was minimal.   

In addition to their performances, both Reid and Rock, as Truvy and Annelle, illustrate an adeptness as the skilled hairdressers for the actual hair styling used in the show (difficult while simultaneously maintaining the flow of the dialogue and actions required throughout). 

Brooks’ directorial approach enlivened Harling's script as did the sextet of performances. 

It is a wonderful ensemble production. The "sisterhood" shown between the actresses shows a heartfelt compassion and the loving bond among these characters - this family - is the show’s greatest strength. 

There are a lot of laughs throughout the show. However, even for those most familiar with the story, it is still advisable to bring along tissues for the show's more heartfelt moments, for there will be no dry eyes left in the house.

"STEEL MAGNOLIAS" continues at the Cannon Theatre in Devens until November 12th. Make sure to make an appointment to see this wonderful production.

Approximately two hours, 30 minutes with one intermission.

Kevin T. Baldwin is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) 




In Robert Harling's "STEEL MAGNOLIAS," Truvy Jones runs a successful beauty salon in Chinquapin, Louisiana, where all the ladies in the neighborhood have a standing Saturday appointment. 

Along with her anxious and eager assistant, Annelle, Truvy styles the hair of many of the women about town: wealthy widow and former first lady of Chinquapin, Clairee Belcher, local curmudgeon Ouiser Boudreaux ("I'm not crazy, I've just been in a bad mood for forty years”), intelligent and compassionate career woman M’Lynn, and her daughter Shelby, the prettiest girl in town. 

Shelby’s engagement is the talk of the town, but the joy and excitement of her wedding quickly turn to concern as she faces a risky pregnancy and a myriad of health complications.  

As the women of "STEEL MAGNOLIAS" make their way over life’s many hurdles together, they find comfort (and a fair amount of verbal ribbing) in one another.


THE CANNON THEATRE was founded by Shawn Cannon and Bret Bahe, who shared a dream of creating a community theater – a place for learning, and great plays, a place where people could enjoy the company of others, laugh, and just lose themselves in the joy of artistic expression. Over the years, the theater incorporated, and then became a non-profit organization, managed so that every precious cent made from each production is carefully fed right back into the creation of the next. During the Pandemic of 2020, the theater was forced to close, as their overhead was too high, They began searching for a new space during 2021, and found it in the late summer of 2021.  
THE CANNON THEATRE board, which still includes the theater’s very active and passionate founders, invites you to join us and experience this welcoming community, whether as an audience member, an actor, backstage crew, or even director. We guarantee you will leave feeling satisfied!


28 Andrews Parkway  

Devens, MA