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Women take center stage in ‘Steel Magnolias’

The cast of the Front Porch Players' production of Robert Harling's ‘Steel Magnolias’ rehearses a scene at First Presbyterian Church of Jonesboro. The cast consists of six women.

The cast of the Front Porch Players' production of Robert Harling's ‘Steel Magnolias’ rehearses a scene at First Presbyterian Church of Jonesboro. The cast consists of six women.

— Six women gather in a beauty shop and discuss an upcoming wedding.

They gawk over the groom’s decision to have an armadillo-shaped, red velvet groom’s cake and debate whether the bride should have a hairstyle influenced by Grace Kelly.

They laugh about one woman’s dog, gasp over the gun one woman had to steal from her husband to keep him from rattling their neighbors and gossip about one of the hair stylist’s apparent sham marriage to a man who abandoned her.

Through it all, every word that rolls off their tongues is delivered through genteel southern drawls because that’s how things roll in the Front Porch Players’ performance of Robert Harling’s “Steel Magnolias.”

“It’s all about relationships and how we deal with each other and how they deal with adversity and how they support each other,” said Karen Ferrell-White, the show’s director.

photo

Curt Yeomans

Stacy Powell's ‘Truvy’ comforts Kathryn Woods' ‘M'Lynn’ during a rehearsal of ‘Steel Magnolias’ Thursday. The Front Porch Players will present a production of the play June 14-15 and 21-23.

photo

Curt Yeomans

The cast of the Front Porch Players' production of Robert Harling's ‘Steel Magnolias’ rehearses a scene at First Presbyterian Church of Jonesboro. The cast consists of six women.

The play will be performed June 14-15 and 21-23 at First Presbyterian Church of Jonesboro, 1842 Lake Jodeco Road. The first four performances will be at 8 p.m. and the June 23 performance will be at 2:30 p.m.

“Steel Magnolias” is the second show from The Front Porch Players, who performed “Moonshine and Magnolias” — which is about the history of Jonesboro — in March.

But if attendees expect ”Steel Magnolias” to be a replica of the 1989 film that starred Dolly Parton, Sally Field, Olympia Dukakis, Daryl Hannah, Julia Roberts and Shirley MacLaine, then they might be in for a shock.

Much of the dialogue from the film is there, but there are some major differences. For starters, the stage version — which predates the movie — has only four scenes and it is set entirely in Truvy’s Beauty Salon. Many of the lines that were said outside of the salon in the movie are uttered in it during the stage version.

Second, there are no men in the play other than a radio DJ who is heard but never seen on stage. That means the show’s cast is made up of six female characters named Truvy, Annelle, Clairee, Shelby, M’Lynn and Ouiser.

“The big difference between our first show and this one is that ‘Moonshine and Magnolias’ had a huge cast and now it’s just the six of us and we have to carry the entire show by ourselves,” said Stacey Powell, who plays Truvy.

“There’s a lot more dialogue for us to remember,” said Kathryn Wood, who plays M’Lynn.

Many of the cast members said it was difficult to not pattern their portrayals after those of Parton, Field, Dukakis, Hannah, Roberts and MacLaine since most of them have seen the popular movie.

“It’s very tempting, when you’re in a play that’s been made into a movie, to go and see how someone else did it, but I had to resist that temptation and try to find my own take,” said Megan Delk, who plays the reserved Annelle.

Some of the cast members said they took differing approaches to get into the groove of playing key moments for their characters.

“I developed a back story for my character, which helped me relate with her better and give me some context for what she goes through,” said Kayla Shai, who plays the ill-fated Shelby.

Helen Byars, who portrays free-spirited Clairee, said she took influence from people in her life. She is the only cast member who hasn’t seen the movie version.

“I’ve known some Clairees at some point or another in my life so it’s bits and pieces of different Clairees,” Byars said.

Wood said she looked to her own experience as a mother to play M’Lynn, the occasionally overbearing mother of Shelby. That experience came in handy in the final scene where M’Lynn has a breakdown over her daughter’s death, she said.

“I think of my own child and that makes me think of how I would react if what if it was them,” Wood said.

But for Mary Anne Brannon, playing the grouchy and occasionally foul-mouthed Ouiser was a step out of the roles she previously played in church productions.

“It’s frightening to do something new like this,” said Brannon. “I didn’t get to say things like ‘I’m in Hell’ in any of the productions I did at my church.”

But overall the cast said the fact that they are all southern women from small towns that helps them connect with the characters. The play is set in a small town in northern Louisiana.

“Each of these women is someone you’d meet in a small southern town,” said Wood. “We all know some people who is like these characters.”

Reserved ticket prices for “Steel Magnolias” are $15.75 for adults, $12.75 for seniors and $10.75 for children. General admission prices are $12.75 for adults, $10.75 for seniors and $8.75 for children. Go online to www.thefrontporchplayers.com or call 770-473-0197 to purchase tickets.

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