A steel magnolia is a Southern belle who is flowery on the outside, but tough as steel on the inside.
Robert Harling’s play, “Steel Magnolias,” is set in a small town in Louisiana where six women experience life’s joy and tragedy. The play is being produced by Asbury Memorial Theatre beginning March 3.
Carmel Garvin Hearn is directing the production.
“Asbury sends out a call in the fall for directors and they asked for us to suggest a show we’d like to direct,” she says. “I started talking with them about doing a musical, but they said that would be for next year; we need something for 2017.
“During the course of the meeting, someone suggested ‘Steel Magnolias.’ It was like a light bulb went on over our heads.
“This year marks the 15th anniversary revival of the show for Asbury,” Hearn says. “It’s the 30th year anniversary for the show.”
“Steel Magnolias” was first produced in New York City in 1987.
“It starred Margo Martindale as Truvy,” Hearn says. “The show was extremely popular, especially since word had gotten out that it was being turned into a movie. Famous actresses who wanted to be in the movie came to see the play.
“Robert Harling wrote the show to honor his sister, who had passed away,” Hearn says. “She had a baby, and he said, ‘This child will never know how wonderful his mother was.’ This play was really his pain flowing out from him.”
Harling created the perfect memorial for his sister.
“When he started writing, this is what flowed out of his pen,” Hearn says. “From what I’ve read, it was a very quick process.
“The same year, it was on a New York stage. Two years later it was a major motion picture, and it finally made it on Broadway in 2005.
“The movie is very true to the original stage production,” she says. “The stage production features only the six women who are the lead roles … All of them are in Truvy’s beauty parlor when we meet them. It’s a sneak peak in the lives of these women and there are some hilarious lines.
“What makes them funny is that we’ve all known someone who talked like that,” Hearn says. “You laugh because you’re so reminded of that person who was such a prominent figure in your memory. There are moments so poignant, so real.”
Cast members are Amie Schulz as Shelby Eatenton Latcherie, Ginger Miles as Ouiser Boudreaux, Frannie Williams as Truvy, Ellen McGraw as Clairee Belcher, Cheri Hester M’Lynn Eatenton and Toye Hickman as Annelle Dupuy-Desoto.
Pat Prokop will serve as the show’s radio DJ, but never makes a stage appearance. Hearn’s daughter, Alex Hearn Swanger, is the stage manager, and Rachel Veazey is the assistant stage manager
“I am so impressed with this cast,” Hearn says. “They’ve worked very hard. They are genuinely funny, genuinely poignant, genuinely real.
“In the very front of the script it says these characters are not caricatures, so don’t play them that way. Hopefully, Robert Harling would be proud … If I had to sum the show up, it would be ‘laughing through tears.’”
A native of Savannah, Hearn is a graduate of Armstrong State University with a degree in English with a concentration in speech and drama. She was a news and weather anchor at WSAV.
“I became the city’s first cable access coordinator,” she says. “Then my husband got a job in Atlanta.
“… Our daughter came back and got a degree in theater management at Armstrong,” Hearn says. “We have a good representation of people in the show who are pursuing theater as a career or majored in theater at school. Everyone on stage has got lot of theater experience.”
Hearn wrote a Christmas drama, “Treasures of the Heart,” which she directed in the Atlanta area. She also has done a lot of acting.
“I was in the Savannah Community Theatre production of ‘Johnny Mercer and Me’ at the Lucas last fall as Maxine’s mother and in 2014 was in ‘The Savannah Disputation’ at the Muse,” Hearn says. “It’s been a while since I had done any directing, and I was ready to jump in and do this.”
Directing “Steel Magnolias” has been virtually worry-free, thanks to the Asbury Memorial Theatre board of directors.
“I don’t have to find someone to build the set or do concessions,” Hearn says. “This is a well-oiled machine. I’m loving having all that wonderful support.”
“Steel Magnolias” is guaranteed to cause a reaction.
“If you’re looking for a show that’s going to leave you with a good feeling inside, this is the show to see,” Hearn says. “If you leave the show and don’t want to call your mother, something is wrong with you.
“Hopefully, people will want to hug their mother or call that special person in their life, whether it’s their mother, sister, dad or someone else special to them. Harling is giving us that gift so we can appreciate the people in our lives.
“I am so grateful for this experience,” she says. “I’m very pleased that Asbury asked me to do this.”
Barbara Gooby is the chairwoman of the Asbury Memorial Theatre board of directors.
“We work to make sure the plays get put on,” Gooby says. “We handle all the logistics.
“I think it’s a really excellent time for us to experience ‘Steel Magnolias.’ It exhibits the fierce love that Southern women have for friends and family and how that love supports us throughout whatever life throws at us.
“Now with times changing so quickly and constantly, it’s a good time to remind ourselves that we have each other’s backs,” she says. “‘Steel Magnolias’ has wonderfully funny moments that go along with drama to balance it beautifully. It’s a good time to remember we can poke fun at ourselves and enjoy hilarious and memorable characters.”
The characters are a big part of the fun.
“As a woman of a certain age, I particularly like that the play includes women from 20 to well over 60,” Gooby says. “It explores our strengths and how we grow throughout life. Carmel has recreated a strong and beautiful cast worthy of being called steel magnolias.”
Asbury is well known for its theater productions and sermons that include theater.
“Sometimes we do two shows a year, sometimes we do one,” Gooby says. “We’re doing one this academic year.
“We didn’t do one in the fall because the theater department helps with the church’s ‘God on Broadway’ series in October. This year, October has five Sundays so we’re doing five ‘God on Broadway’ shows. We also have the Pecan & Honey Festival and can get overwhelmed by all the work that needs to be done.”
But the theater department continues to plan ahead.
“The next show we do will be ‘Man of La Mancha’ in 2018,” she says. “We’ll also do Neil Simon’s ‘Plaza Suite’ because there are only four ‘God on Broadway’ sermons that year.”
“Steel Magnolias” is sure to please any theatergoer, Gooby says.
“This is the play and not the movie, and you need to see the play,” she says. “It is hilarious and touching and leaves you happy that you live in the South.”
The theater program at Asbury is open to anyone who wants to participate, Gooby says.
“Asbury Memorial Theatre is a community theater,” she says. “We have a mission of providing top theater and musical productions with local performers and crew and directors.
“We definitely welcome anyone who wants to participate and explore the creativity of theater. The church is very open and welcoming.
“We’re thrilled to have Carmel directing,” Gooby says. “We’ve put the set in, so it’s coming together really well. Like Asbury’s motto, we are expressing the joy of God creatively.”
IF YOU GO
What: Asbury Memorial Theatre presents “Steel Magnolias”
When: 7:30 p.m. March 3, 4, 10 and 11; 3 p.m. March 5 and 12
Where: Asbury Memorial United Methodist Church, 1008 E. Henry St.
Cost: $15; $10 each for groups of 10 or more