by Robert Harling
directed by Amanda Berg Wilson
May 28 – September 17, 2022 | Ruth Humphreys Brown Theatre
Friendship, Laughter, & Love…
Welcome to Truvy’s beauty salon in Chinquapin, Louisiana, where all the ladies who are “anybody” come to have their hair done. Aided by her eager new assistant, Annelle, wise-cracking Truvy dispenses shampoos and advice to the town’s rich curmudgeon, Ouiser (Annie Butler); an eccentric millionaire, Miss Clairee (Christy Brandt); the local social leader, M’Lynn; and her daughter, Shelby, the “prettiest girl in town.” Filled with classic one-liners and hilarious repartee, the play speaks to the underlying strength—and love—of true friendship.
Content Information: This play contains some mature themes, big hair, and lots of town gossip.
Please see CRT’s complete list of Content Advisories and Trigger Warnings for additional information.
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MEET THE ARTISTS
Robert Harling made his directorial debut with The Evening Star for Paramount, which he also wrote for the screen based on Larry McMurty’s novel. The Evening Star reunited Shirley MacLaine and Jack Nicholson and co-stars Juliette Lewis, Bill Paxton, Scott Wolf, Miranda Richardson, and Marion Ross in a continuation of one of the most beloved and acclaimed movies of our time, Terms of Endearment. Before launching a successful stage and screenwriting career, Robert graduated from Tulane University School of Law, but instead of taking the bar exam, he opted to become an actor in New York. After years of productive work as an actor in voiceovers and commercials, Harling was inspired to write the highly acclaimed stage play Steel Magnolias, which was based on events from his personal life. Steel Magnolias continues to thrive in theatrical productions throughout the world. Immediately bridging a career from stage to screen, Harling adapted his original play into the popular film of the same title, which starred Sally Field, Julia Roberts, Shirley MacLaine, Olympia Dukakis, Dolly Parton, and Daryl Hannah. Over the years, Mr. Harling has become a much sought-after screenwriter: other credits, to name a few, include Soapdish, which was based on Harling’s acting experience and starred Sally Field, Whoopi Goldberg, and Robert Downey Jr., and First Wive’s Club for Paramount, starring Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn, and Diane Keaton.
Amanda Berg Wilson
Amanda is Artistic Director of The Catamounts, a Colorado company dedicated to theatre for the adventurous palate (thecatamounts.org), and a freelance theatre artist specializing in site-specific, immersive, feminist, and boundary-pushing works. As director: 9 to 5 and Pride and Prejudice (Creede Repertory Theatre); The Wild Party and Between Us: The Whiskey Tasting (DCPA Off-Center); God’s Ear, Failure: A Love Story, Rausch, Men On Boats, United Flight 232, and Land of Milk and Honey, among others (The Catamounts). As performer: Sweet & Lucky (DCPA Off-Center), Detroit (Curious Theatre Company), There is A Happiness That Morning Is and Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage (The Catamounts). Select awards: 2014, 2016, 2018, and 2021 True West awards; 2017 and 2018 Henry nominations (Best Choreography and Best New Work.) Next up: Assistant Director on Theatre of the Mind with DCPA Off-Center, a new immersive theatre piece by Mala Gaonkar and David Byrne.
Amanda Berg Wilson
Curious about how friendship alters the way we approach the difficulties of life, researchers at the University of Virginia conducted an experiment. One day, as UVA students traveled between their classes on campus, the researchers asked them to volunteer. Some of the students they asked were walking alone, others were walking in pairs. They gave each student a backpack, the weight of which was equal to approximately 20% of that student’s body weight, then asked each to estimate the incline of a hill they would be tasked with climbing. The students who were alone estimated the hill to be much steeper than those who were prepared to climb it with their friend. Even more fascinatingly, the longer the two friends had known one another, the less steep they estimated the climb to be.
The researchers’ conclusion: with friends by our side, the challenges of being human become less daunting.
More interesting data from other experiments: people with strong social relationships have a 50% increased likelihood of living a long life. And: those who live in communities with more public gathering places have a greater level of public trust.
Steel Magnolias is a 1987 play by Robert Harling, written upon the advice of a friend as a way to process his grief after his sister’s death. It began as a short story, one that Harling hoped would one day help his late sister’s son understand more about his mother. And what is the story that Uncle Robert wanted to tell his nephew? I think at its core he is telling a story of the fierce, indelible love between a mother and child and how that love is complicated by the child’s need to separate from her mother and become her own person.
But more broadly, the play is also an exploration of that same thing the researchers at UVA set out to quantify: how precious our relationships with the folks in our community are–the children of our friends, the neighbor with whom we may have disagreements, the woman who does our hair. And how an everyday gathering space–the neighborhood hair salon–can be a sanctuary from the exigencies of the outside world. At its foundation, Steel Magnolias is about the same thing all that data proves–how important our friendships are to navigating this life.
This is the third piece I’ve been lucky enough to captain at CRT (after 2018’s 9 to 5 and 2019’s Pride and Prejudice), and all three have focused on the lived experience of women. As a feminist, a friend, a wife, a daughter, and most especially as a mother, I feel grateful for the way in which Steel Magnolias celebrates women in various stages of life–a newlywed, a mother-of-the-bride, an empty nester, a widower. But these specific women-centered stories are nestled in a universal truth–we need one another, y’all. As we emerge from these pandemic years characterized by so much isolation, I hope our production of Steel Magnolias will be a hilarious, heart-wrenching, heart-warming reminder.