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Women share strength in sassy ‘Magnolias’

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — “Steel Magnolias ” is a Southern staple with something for everyone who loves big hair, armadillo cake or a curmudgeon who says, “I’m not crazy. I’ve just been in a bad mood for 40 years.”

The Albuquerque Little Theatre will stage this Southern-fried classic beginning next weekend.

Robert Harling wrote the play in 1987.

“He wrote this play in 10 days, sort of like therapy from what he’d been through with his sister,” director Peter Parkin said.

The women all meet in the Louisiana beauty salon that functions as both clubhouse and support group haven.

“They’re unique characters,” Parkin said. “They’re all very well-drawn. He had some really strong characters to draw on.”

Shelby (based on the playwright’s sister Susan) is the prettiest girl in town. She has diabetes and is warned not to become pregnant because of potential complications. M’Lynn is her mother. Truvy is the salon owner; Annelle is her eager assistant. Clairee is a wealthy widow. Ouiser is the local crank whose insults belie a compassionate heart.

“Everybody wanted to be Ouiser” at the auditions, Parkin said.

The audience meets Shelby as the joy of her wedding gives way to concern for her risky pregnancy.

As the women thread through the problems of their own lives they find comfort and a fair amount of verbal ribbing in one another.

The 1989 film starred Shirley MacLaine, Olympia Dukakis, Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Julia Roberts and Daryl Hannah.

“The message of the play is wrapped up in Shelby, who has lived with this disease for so long,” Parkin said. “She’d rather live half an hour than compromise to the point where she lives an unhappy life.”