Cast and crew prepare for play’s opening
By Julia Siedlanowska, Staff Writer
I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek last week of Douglas College’s latest production, Steel Magnolias.
Most of us know the story from the 1989 film starring Julia Roberts, Sally Field, and Dolly Parton, but the script made its initial debut on the stage in 1987.
With an all-female cast, the girls agree that there is a lot of “femme power” going on within the show.
“Steel Magnolias is a touching and humorous story about a group of women who come together, let go of class, religion, and other differences in order to support each other through some very difficult times,” said director Deborah Neville.
Neville is known at the college for her recent productions, Dancing at Lughnasa and The Rez Sisters. She tries to create meaningful and poignant relationships both on and off the stage. For Steel Magnolias, she had her cast bake an armadillo-shaped cake like the one mentioned in the play to help them get into their roles and develop strong relationships between the characters.
“There are a lot of emotional journeys within the show,” said actor Nicole Cochrane, who plays the initially shy and reserved Annelle Dupuy-Desoto.
Unlike the film, the play is set entirely in Truvy’s beauty salon. The Studio Theatre is transformed as we enter through a screen door reminiscing those we might imagine in a dusty southern town.
“Welcome to Truvy’s beauty shop because you are literally sitting on the stage—you’re with us, and you’re following our journey,” said actor Alexandria Gamache, who plays Shelby.
“You get to know the southern people, their customs, and how they communicate with each other in the salon—especially with the ladies—family, love, and life,” said FJ van Wyk, who plays Clairee Belcher.
“There’s a lot of hair too,” added Cochrane. “A lot of ‘80s.”
Fans of the movie will enjoy some of the same zingers as heard on screen, such as “There’s no such thing as natural beauty” and “Smile, it increases your face value.”
Playwright Robert Harling originally wrote the play as a short story in reaction to his younger sister’s death due to diabetes. The two were very close, and many of Harling’s friends advised him to write as a coping mechanism. The result was a story that continues to endure as a touching and powerfully funny portrayal of friendship and sisterhood.
“Harling’s script is beautifully written and allows us to slide easily into the friendship circle of six fully realized characters. It’s such a pleasure for myself and the actors to work with a strong script like Steel Magnolias,” said Neville.
“It provides us with the opportunity to see deeply into another person’s life, to witness another person’s choices, find a commonality or connection between ourselves and someone else, someone whose choices and thoughts, their way of life and reason for being may be vastly different from your own. This insight, this connection—this is the best of theatre.”
Steel Magnolias runs November 1-9 at the Studio Theatre at Douglas College’s New Westminster campus. Tickets are $10-12 and are available through Massey Theatre at 604-521-5050.