No matter where you travel or what community you visit, everyone loves the play and movie Steel Magnolias. First released as a play written by Robert Harling in 1987, and after appearing Off-Broadway for a couple of years, the play quickly went on to become a super hit movie premiering in 1989.
Most everyone is familiar with the storyline: A group of southern ladies in a small-town deal with life’s issues that cause them to bond in a special, “beauty parlor” way. The story is inked with plots and subplots, all giving credence to every stereotype of small southern towns and the cornucopia of eccentric neighbors that make up such communities.
Harling based the writing on his growing-up years in a southern town and all the characters he knew and “endured” while living there. Losing his sister Susan Harling Robinson to Type I Diabetes in 1985 and suffering from the loss, he felt compelled to center the activities and seasonal happenings in Chinquapin Paris around the illness and subsequent death of his sister.
The play was a tremendous hit and the movie has garnered numerous awards and accolades over the years. Everyone loves _Steel Magnolias_ and relishes in recalling favorite scenes and quoting lines. The story has woven its way into American pop-culture and the LGBTQ folks have never stopped loving it!
I first heard of the play while staying in New York City in 1988. I was there to decide if I would move there and write the great American novel or just hang out there at The Monster bar and become yet another poor southern boy, relocated, and waiting tables! To my joy, I linked with several literary types and “people that knew people.”
On a very snowy February night, I found myself and date, Quentin Crisp, at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (121 Christopher Street) watching a new play based in a southern town. My newly acquired NYC crowd assured me I would love this show, the story, the acting, and most of all the “realness” of it as I had become their new “token southern boy writer wanna-be” that had landed in NYC. I loved the play and enjoyed the ever-witty company of my companion, Mr. Crisp. Later over dinner, I shared my stories of growing up in the south, beauty shops, town characters, and, of course, the epic gossip that thrived in such settings with Quentin. As always, my pink-haired friend enjoyed my tales and suggested I put them to print into a book and make some money off of my “abused upbringing.”
Skip ahead to Galveston Island in 2020 and the fantastic parody of the popular play and movie written by the Island’s own Carly Davin Nation (sometimes known as Carly Hart). No stranger to theater, drag, and creative endeavors, Nation wrote her version of Steel Magnolias and called it Aluminum Gardenias. With years of studying and making note of everything that goes into great creativity, especially on Galveston Island so chocked with characters, Carly put together a true and genuine homage to the original play and movie.
Well-versed in writing, producing, and releasing other great LGBTQ productions, Nation and her company Onyxfire Productions decided to audition some local drag performers (she worked with all of them over the years) and film a short of her creation. Having already created, directed, and starred in her two clever on-line drama series, Dragtown, and Transfolk, Nation recruited her regulars C.C. Ryder and Dixie Cass Monroe, both well-received in Galveston’s popular performing community and regulars at Robert’s Lafitte, to star in her latest production Aluminum Magnolias. After months of rehearsals and shooting, the production came alive. After posting it on YouTube, it has become a hit among LGBTQ shorts.
C.C. Ryder and Dixie Cass Monroe, as well as Nation herself, recreate the drama, humor, and wit that Harling so portrayed in the original production. Folks have commented: “Wow, I can’t believe that someone in Galveston did this… not discovered yet… so professional and right on.”
Combine the writing, directing, and performing skills of Carly Davin Nation with the spit-quick wit and humor of Ryder and Monroe, and you have a short that would make Harling smile and shout “Bravo!” For a few minutes, viewers are back in Chinquapin Parish watching the antics of southern ladies that love each other as well know enough dirt on one another to bite and snip!
Catch _Aluminum Magnolias_ on YouTube. It is worth the watch, especially if you are a fan of Steel Magnolias and its rightful place in the LGBTQ world.
Not one to rest on her laurels, Nation and Onyxfire Productions are currently working on a new project What Ever Happened to Toddler June on Sunset Boulevard, due out in 2021. With all the camp of Baby Jane Hudson and Norma Desmond, the new short is sure to be well-received by all.
A resident of Galveston where he can be found wasting bait and searching for the meaning of life, Forest Riggs recently completed a collection of short stories about his beloved island and is working on a novel.