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TheatreWorks production is a hit with cast, audience
'Steel Magnolias' in full bloom
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"Steel Magnolias" cast members from left; Roslyn Simmons, Beth Emmert, Tish Owens, Freda Gilmer and Sarah Foley are shown in a beauty parlor scene during Thursday's performance at the Black Box Theatre. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)

Friday, December 7, 2012

By VICKY MORRISON - Bulletin Staff Writer

TheatreWorks Community Players’ final production of the season, “Steel Magnolias,” is resonating with the actors in its cast and the people in its audience.

“Steel Magnolias” is the 15th show since the community theater group began and the final one for this season. It has sold out all of its tickets for its remaining shows.

“It’s so nice to have something that allows people to express themselves,” Sarah Foley said of the theater.

Foley plays the lead role in the play, Shelby Eatenton, who, as a newlywed diabetic, struggles with whether to risk her life to give birth.

“Steel Magnolias” is considered as a modern day classic by many. Most recognize it as the popular film from 1989. However, Corbin Campbell, TheaterWorks’ creative director, said this production is not a “redo” of the movie.

The story revolves around the activity of Truvy Jones’ beauty salon, beginning on Shelby’s wedding day. Truvy is played by Freda Gilmer. The group of six women meet at the salon and vent their emotional burdens to one another, seeking comedic relief and emotional solace.

The women, who frequently are burdened by the males in their lives, offer encouragement and support for one another. As M’Lynn Eatenton, played by Tish Owens, points out, the salon is “women’s territory.”

Campbell’s set design takes the audience into the salon, effectively using the blackbox layout. The set has hairstyling chairs that sit almost at the edge of the stage, which engages the audience in the characters’ conversations.

Thursday night, the crowd responded to the production’s charm and sense of humor. Laughter followed every joke. The constant emotional commotion of the play matches the extravagant 1980s styles with larger-than-life hair and bright colored clothing by costume designer Karen Despot.

“We thought it would be a show the audience could relate to,” Campbell said.

This was evidenced by one audience member who cried out, “I love her! She reminds me of my mother!” just after Betty Joe Fulcher as Ouiser Boudreaux delivered the punchline, “I’m not crazy. I’ve just been in a bad mood for 40 years.”

Roslyn Simmons, who plays Clairee Belcher, said TheaterWorks productions are a key part of Martinsville’s arts scene. Both she and and Foley have acted in TheatreWorks productions before.

Simmons said she enjoys entertaining and making people laugh. In real life, she said she sometimes is the one responsible for reminding her family and friends to stay positive in the face of hardships. This helped her acting as part of the group of friends who endured their challenges together.

The Black Box Theatre’s full house provided energy for the show’s final weekend of performances so it seemed like “opening night all over again,” according to Campbell.

He takes pride in the fact that three actresses in “Magnolias” were newcomers to the stage. These actresses are Beth Emmert as Annelle DuPuy, Gilmer and Owens.

Owens is new to the stage in uptown, but she has acted since high school and even met her husband while they performed together in a high school production of “South Pacific.” As a mother, Owens felt she could relate to her character as Shelby’s mother.

Emmert, a beautician, said she saw “a lot of everyday experiences, the trials and tribulations of life in the people she works with,” in the play.


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