Weekender

Millbrook Playhouse production turns on Southern charm

Featuring a cast of six women, “Steel Magnolias” is set in a Louisiana beauty parlor.
Featuring a cast of six women, “Steel Magnolias” is set in a Louisiana beauty parlor. Photo provided

For its next summer production, Millbrook Playhouse will present “Steel Magnolias,” a celebration of Southern families and friendship.

Set in a beauty parlor in Chinquapin, La., “Steel Magnolias” illustrates how the lives of six women interweave via the small town gossip that shadows the unending cycle of birth, marriage and death.

“Steel Magnolias” is directed by Morgan Sills, who returns to the Playhouse for a second season after directing last year’s sold out run of “Dial ‘M’ for Murder.”

Like most people, Sills’ initial contact with “Steel Magnolias” was the 1989 film.

“I was born in rural North Carolina, and I think of the resilient, graceful Southern women in my own family, and the female artists who have given me inspiration, love, wisdom and strength,” he said. “With this particular play, the audience can reflect on the rites of passage in their own lives and in the lives of their circle of friends. ‘Steel Magnolias’ is hysterically funny and deeply touching — often simultaneously. Humor, heart and guts — it’s all there.”

Marianne Matthews plays Ouiser Boudreaux, whom the playwright describes as a “wealthy curmudgeon.” But Matthews sees her as much more than that — and much more than a stereotype.

“I view Ouiser as a deeply disappointed romantic who desperately wants to believe in love again and who has a need to connect, and even nurture others,” she said.

Amanda Moreau is cast in the role of Annelle, a determined young woman who refuses to be a victim the rest of her life. An aspiring beautician, she is a Creole beauty who believes her crown and glory is a source of salvation and purpose.

“It’s not just one woman’s story of survival — it’s a story of discovering women of different ages, different backgrounds and different circumstances,” Moreau said. “It is a play for the women in your life and the women you come across along the way.”

Though the facts of people’s lives are different, “Steel Magnolias” sets out to prove that very often the feelings are the same.

“We all experience weddings, births, getting a new job, and other circle-of-life events,” Sills said. “People everywhere love ‘Steel Magnolias,’ and the characters are so beloved; we enjoy spending time with them.”

“There are so many great plays out there, but I would say that ‘Steel Magnolias’ is written in a way that uniquely combines comedy with tragedy,” Matthews said. “I hope our particular production of ‘Magnolias’ will be special in the sense that we aim to deliver the comedy out of the pain that lies underneath each character’s exterior. In other words, we are going for truth — not just laughs.”

One of Sills’ favorite parts of theater is watching the audience after a performance.

“After a show like ‘Steel Magnolias,’ you see people leaving the theater — couples, families and groups of friends who have just laughed, and perhaps cried together,” he said. “The show becomes another warm and wonderful memory in their lives; an evening they’ve spent together at the theater. And whenever they remember it — even years from now — they’ll smile.”

“I hope that women leave feeling stronger, with confidence knowing they are stronger because of their willingness to improve their lives,” Moreau said. “They will understand the metamorphosis that a female experiences in changing the unfortunate circumstances of her life. And I hope the men leave learning how much they should appreciate the roles that women play in their lives.”

IF YOU GO

  • What: Millbrook Playhouse’s “Steel Magnolias”
  • When: June 24-July 2
  • Where: Millbrook Playhouse Ryan Main Stage, 258 Country Club Lane, Mill Hall
  • Info: www.millbrookplayhouse.org/
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