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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Mother-daughter ties fuel ‘Steel Magnolias’ in New London

Critic At Large

Wolf River Theatrical Troupe

Scene from “Steel Magnolias” by Wolf River Theatrical Troupe, New London. (Warren Gerds)

NEW LONDON, Wis. (WFRV) – Plays are referred to in the first person. They are living things, like this:

In 1991, Deb Ostrander portrayed Shelby, the pivotal character met on her wedding day in “Steel Magnolias.” Shelby is the daughter of M’Lynn.

In 2021 for Wolf River Theatrical Troupe, Deb Ostrander is portraying M’Lynn opposite her daughter, Lindsey Uvaas, as Shelby.

The idea to put on the play is that of Molly Brown, who directs, says Maggie Brown, her mother, who produces and previously was part of “Steel Magnolias” years ago.

Movies are locked in time. Plays live.

Written by Robert Harling, “Steel Magnolias” lives because it says so much while being funny at the same time.

The setup: Truvy Beauty Spot is a hub for women in a small town in Louisiana. Gossip there is welcomed like raindrops in a spring shower. Men are not present yet very much present in the lives to the six women of Truvy’s salon. The motto there is “There’s no such thing as natural beauty.”  In the midst of light-hearted teasing and tattling, Truvy is prettying the hair of Shelby when the knife’s edge of comedy/tragedy happens. Shelby convulses. Suddenly, the froth of what’s been going on turns on Shelby’s diabetic reaction.

Much care is on display in this community theater production – the handling of the roles, the look of Truvy’s, the look of the clothing of the women, the sound of Southern women, the sensibilities of life in a small town, the way on opening night Thursday that the players helped one another along at times.

Plays are not natural beauty, but they can be beautiful like this one.

Introducing the players and characters:

Anne Caylor portrays Truvy, a salt-of-the-earth person who’s naturally comical. Sample: She rattles of titles of reading material in her shop – Ladies Home Journal and the like – noting they are “every magazine known to man.” The play opens with Truvy taking in a waif.

Brooklyn Billington portrays that waif, Annelle, a living soap opera. Her husband disappeared with all the money from a town she is new to and needy, Annelle eventually brings to the story evangelical faith.

Kay Ellingston portrays Clairee, a fashion-plate widow. She is a woman of means who enjoys the company she keeps in the beauty parlor.

Dorie Attoe portrays Ouiser, the town grump. Not only is she snappy in the first place from two lousy husbands and three kids she doesn’t like, her gun-blasting neighbor man makes so much scary noise her dog has lost all his hair – a mean feat because he’s a Collie.

Lindsey Uvaas portrays Shelby, who has two goals in life – to be pretty in pink and to raise a family. The former is okay. The latter is problematic.

Deb Ostrander portrays M’Lynn, wife of the gun-blaster and mother of Shelby, a handful with her tongue and firm way with her wishes. M’Lynn’s occupation as a counsellor of people with mental needs comes into play in how she deals with dilemmas on her doorstep.

It is clear the players like their characters. Nice.

This and that:

+ The players wear wireless headsets. In part, that is because the performance space is deep. Amplification helps voices carry from the way back.

+ Truvy’s shop has a black-and-white checkered floor. An extra mile went into adding that.

+ Clairee is a snappy dresser. All the time. Each scene.

+ The processes of hair dressing are done. Anne Caylor and Brooklyn Billington do up the hair of characters as conversation flows in the shop. There’s no running water, though, so no shampoos.

+ In a scene near the end, it was hard to tell Thursday whether the five players on the stage were acting amid an outpouring of reaction.

+ Playwright Robert Harling based his play on the story of his sister.


Running time: Two hours, 35 minutes

Remaining performances: 7 p.m. June 4-5, 10-11 and 2 p.m. June 12

Info: wrtt.org

Creative: Playwright – Robert Harling; director – Molly Brown; producer – Margie Brown; lights/sound technician – Chris Berberich; props/costuming – Margie Brown, Debbie Martin, cast; set building – Clint Danke; stage hand – Debbie Martin; backstage – Jenna Beckman, Jayla Dominguez


Truvy Jones – Anne Caylor

Annelle Dupuy-Desoto – Brooklyn Billington

Clairee Belcher – Kay Ellingson

Shelby Eatenton-Latcherie – Lindsey Uvaas

M’Lynn Eatenton – Deb Ostrander

Ouiser Boudreaux – Dorie Attoe


June 3, 2021. (Warren Gerds)

VENUE: The address 304 St. Johns Place in downtown New London is home to Wolf River Theatrical Troupe. The building was built as a church in 1906 and most previously was used as Real Opportunities Outreach following its years as Christian Cornerstone Church. The exterior is red brick, with crosses atop the roof and on a side entryway. The rectangular auditorium seats 80 on moveable chairs. The former altar serves as the stage, with an adorned wooden beam and two columns with Corinthian capitals on each side establishing the stage front. The beam holds theatrical lighting fixtures. High above on the walls, wooden shutters cover window spaces. The performance space is unique among theaters in the region. It is especially deep. The stage is about 30 feet wide and at least 35 feet deep. To the left of the stage is the entrance to rest rooms. In the back of the house is the box office and a small area for concessions and displays, including a newspaper clipping from 1980 when the building was an Episcopal church.

NEXT: “Always, Patsy Cline” by Ted Swindley, July 15-17, 22-24.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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