Friday marked the opening night of Civic Theatre’s production of Steel Magnolias, and with it, some new faces sharing a close-to-home tale in this intimate setting.
The well-known stage is set in Louisiana: Six women’s lives intersect at a local hair salon. These Southern belles and broads share the good and the bad, taking it all in stride and with good humor. As Robert Sorbera, Civic Theatre’s artistic director, has it, the show can fall into either the drama or comedy slot for the season.
This performance revealed several new faces when the lights cued up, most notably Pamela Kingsley (Clairee), a stage veteran making her Indianapolis theater debut. Emily Lantz (Shelby) stepped into her first speaking role at Civic Theatre. Although her acting was excellent, her go at a Southern accent came and went as it pleased.
The crew added some nice touches with the audio (courtesy of sound designer Michael Lasley) throughout the show. For example, noises from outside the salon increased and decreased each time a door opened and then shut. While that may seem a small detail, for a play that utilizes just one set for its duration (aside from a few Christmas decorations going up), keen notes like this are vital, and fun.
Of course it’s not the first time Carmel has seen this beloved classic on the stage. Last year, Carmel Community Players brought the story to life. Asked about the close proximity of the shows, Sorbera tells IM, “I don’t base my season around what other [amateur] theaters are doing.”
Although the script doesn’t change with any reproduction, the characters do. “You automatically bring something fresh when you bring six different human beings to interpret the roles,” says Sorbera. “That’s why plays are fun to watch and never the same.”
Steel Magnolias was written by Robert Harling, debuting in 1987 and gracing Broadway for 136 shows in 2005. The script was based on Harling’s own story. “The playwright insists in the script, ‘Don’t treat these women like cartoons,’” says Sorbera. “They are real people.” Harling’s writing reflects the personal connection that bubbles up at the show’s climax.
“Most plays have a shelf live,” says Sorbera. “The very language in which they are written changes and goes out of fashion. This one has had a really good shelf life. I think it is a very good play, one of the best plays written in the last 30 years. I think it will be viable for a long time.”