WALLA WALLA -- If Truvy could fix the world, she'd do it with hair spray. Maybe Aqua Net.
As it is, the owner of the beauty parlor (as in, not a salon) in Northwest Louisiana uses humor and wry observations to keep her busy universe intact.
That includes the clients and employees who orbit Truvy's sun.
The strength of those relationships is the foundation of Steel Magnolias, which is being presented at Little Theatre of Walla Walla, beginning Friday at 8 p.m.
The comedy-drama, written in 1987 by Robert Harling, explored the bonds of friendship between women and its use as a survival tool when Truvy and her customers -- all counted as personal friends -- undergo a number of life's hardest moments, including divorce and death.
The play grew legs from a short story Harling wrote about the death of his sister from juvenile diabetes.
When Susan Harling Robinson died at age 32, it was a transformative experience for the struggling actor and friends advised him to parlay his grief into words.
While the play's original Broadway run closed after 1,126 performances, it morphed into a hit movie in 1989, elevating the careers of the cast, including Dolly Parton, Julia Roberts, Shirley MacLaine and Olympia Dukakis.
At Little Theatre, local actresses were molding into those same roles during a recent rehearsal.
As one unit, Shauna Lillie Bogley, Sydney Boyd, Pam Murray, Molly Katherine McKinney, Terri Trick and Kay Fenimore-Smith became a gathering of very Southern women who converge in Truvy's beauty parlor.
The set seems transported straight from the 1980s, with patterned walls in glowing turquoise and a replica of a printed linoleum floor.
Pictures of the hair styles of the day -- remember big hair? -- adorn the walls, while the hair stations boast old, painted cupboards and bins of multi-colored curlers.
No fancy eco-friendly products for this Southern business. Instead bottles of VO5 and boxes of hair color line the shelves.
It's obvious attention has been paid to detail, from the cast's sweet, creamy drawls to director Carol Anselmo's directions to her actresses.
"Now when you lean her back, I want it to look like you're turning the water on," she tells Boyd, who plays the parlor's newest employee, Annelle.
Anselmo has made sure a bowl of water was placed in the bottom of the hair-washing sink. "Pull the hose up, and then take it down into the sink."
In the pantsuits, chiffon scarves and floral prints of the era, the actresses plait their characters' individual stories into a strong braid of mutual experience and understanding amongst the stacks of white towels and potted plants.
Over the women's magazines and under the ruffled window valances, they discuss the big and the small of their universe.
The play is a good fit for Walla Walla's own character, Anselmo said.
"People here are caring people and they identify with other people. I guess because the play is about love and because this is a small community, and we have better opportunity to care for each other."
Like the Southern atmosphere in "Steel Magnolias," this Valley grows folks who will look each other in the eye, the director added. "It's not like New York that's all hustle and bustle and go, go, go."
The play is structured as an ensemble piece, with no main lead and most actresses on stage at the same time.
The cast fuses as one entity, and her actresses have indeed done so, Anselmo said.
"Sometimes I feel like an outsider because they are so in tune and connected to each other."
What's more, they've done so off stage, she noted with a laugh.
"That's the truest experience. They're all having a good time and that translates to the audience. It enhances the experience for everybody."
If you go:
Steel Magnolias plays at Little Theatre of Walla Walla, 1130 Sumach St., at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Feb. 17-18, 24-25, and a 2 p.m. matinee Feb. 19. Admission is $14 for adults, $10 for ages 13 and younger. Tickets are available at the door or ltww.org. For more information call 529-3683.