Champaign Urbana Theatre Company kicks off 2020 with the play Steel Magnolias written by Robert Harling. Jennifer Goran, theatre educator and practitioner, directs this production which focuses on the power of friendship amongst women. The show will be presented this weekend only at Parkland College’s Second Stage Theatre.
“The action takes place in Truvy’s beauty salon in Chinquapin, Louisiana, where anybody who’s anybody gets their hair done! Along with Annelle, her new assistant, Truvy pampers her clients with hairdos, manicures and all kinds of gossip and advice.There’s the caring and always concerned M’Lynn and her bride-to-be daughter Shelby, the grumpy Ouiser and the millionaire widow Clairee.
This eclectic group of women forms friendships as strong as steel, which they depend on through all of life’s celebrations and tragedies.”
-Steel Magnolias Facebook event page
Image: Photo of two women sitting on a couch, on stage at Parkland's Second Stage, running lines from scripts. Photo from CUTC Facebook page
Steel Magnolias was originally presented as a stage play in the late eighties. Playwright Robert Harling was inspired to write the story based on his younger sister’s experience with Type I diabetes. In the play, character Shelby shares the same diagnosis and its associated complications.
Harling later adapted the play into the 1989 film that features a star-studded Hollywood cast including Dolly Parton, Sally Field, Daryl Hannah, Shirley MacLaine, and Julia Roberts. Nominated for several awards, Steel Magnolias was successfully in picking up the 1990's People's Choice Award for Favorite Dramatic Motion Picture. Julia Roberts took home a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress.
Going from stage to screen always results in changes. While audiences can expect many similarities if they are familiar with the film, director Jennifer Goran shares with Smile Politely that the play has its differences. Unlike the film, the play features a cast entirely composed of women. Additionally, the story is housed all within the walls of Truvy’s salon rather than multiple locations. The narrative remains the same as the title suggests -- inspiring with a healthy amount of sadness.
“The title is the metaphor for these women. Magnolias are beautiful, delicate and "feminine" (in the 1980's southern sensibility kind of way) and yet they are made of STEEL. They have been divorced, widowed, abandoned. They are the main breadwinners, fighting chronic diseases and breaking through glass ceilings to buy radio stations and administrate mental health facilities. They are resilient.”
Goran explains that she was drawn to the show due to its themes of community, specifically women supporting women. She mentions that one of her objectives was to invite the audience into the communal space of Truvy’s salon to appreciate the characters as they build relationships with one another. She wants audience members to feel like they are truly a part of the story.
Image: Photo of two women, actors rehearsing Steel Magnolias at the Parkland College Second Stage, with one seated and one standing behind her. Photo from CUTC Facebook page
In regards to this cast of local ladies, Goran has high praises. Using the words of Ousier, a character in the play, Goran refers to the chemistry between the actresses as a director’s dream -- “We are perfectly cast.”
The production features Susan Curtis portrays Truvy Jones, Maya Hammon as Annelle Dupuy-Desoto, Gabrielle Smith as Shelby Eatenton-Latcherie, Maggie Kinnamon as M’Lynn Eatsenton, Cindy Kelly as Ousier Boudreaux, and Gretchen Krieger as Clairee Belcher.
“[These six women] are living out in real life the supportive and loving community that is portrayed in the play… Our creative team is made up of talented, dedicated people who love the art of theatre and who offer their gifts and passion regardless of fame and fortune. This is the beauty of community theatre.”