Art Council’s newest production will have you ‘laughing through your tears’

The cast of “Steel Magnolias” includes, from left, Amy Rau, Lee Willson, Rayna Purdy, Betsy Miskell, Kimberly Smith, and Sally White.


Steel Magnolias’ appearing at the CTC – 

By Patricia Beech – 

“Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion,” says Truvy Jones, the good-hearted proprietor of a carport beauty parlor in “Steel Magnolias” – the Adams County Arts Council’s latest theatrical production which opens Nov. 30 at the Career and Technical Center (CTC) in West Union.
The play (which is being sponsored by the National Bank of Adams County) is based on real people from playwright Robert Harling’s own life – his mother and sister and their gal pals who met weekly at the neighborhood beauty salon in Chinquapin, La. to share gossip, tragedy, and hairspray.
“I love the fact that it’s about women and their friendships and how they empower one another,” said Director Davina Cooper. “It’s a fun production that has an emotional impact, and with all the dialogue going on about women’s lives right now, I think it’s a fitting production.”
The cast serving up a portrait of southern eccentricities includes: Kimberly Smith as beautician Truvy Jones; Rayna Purdy as Shelby Eatenton Latcherie; Lee Wilson as M’Lynn Eatenton (Shelby’s mother); Amy Rau as Annelle Dupuy Desoto; Sally White as Clairee Belcher; and Betsy Miskell as the often-cantankerous Ouiser Boudreaux.
Cooper says that casting the players went off without a hitch.
“I knew enough about these ladies to figure out during the audition process what their strong suits are and to match them up with the character,” she says. “There was never any doubt in my mind during auditions that the people I chose for the roles would be able to make this production spectacular.”
All six cast members say they identify with the characters they’re playing.
“I play Truvy Jones, and I love her – she’s become my best friend over the past few weeks while I was learning the lines,” says Kimberly Smith, who is appearing on stage for the first time. While she admits to having a bit of stage fright, she says, “This is something I’ve always wanted to try so I’m giving it a shot, and so far, I love it.”
Also appearing in her first stage production, Amy Rau who plays beautician Annelle Dupuy Desoto. Rau says she decided to audition for a part because she “wanted to do something outside the box.”
“I identify with Annelle so much that I find myselfunconsciously slipping into a southern accent when I’m in class teaching, and my students just love it,” she says.
Lee Willson, who plays M’Lynn Eatenton, is the former Drama Club teacher at Eastern Brown High School where she directed 11 productions and six dinner theaters.
“I have loads of experience directing,” she says. “But, this is the first time I’ve been on stage in a major role since I was in college, and it’s been great.”
Rayna Purdy, the youngest cast member, plays M’Lynn’s diabetic daughter, Shelby.
“I love this play,” she says. “It’s about strong women helping each other out during good and bad times, and I like the premise of women being there, holding each other up instead of tearing each other down.”
Sally White, who plays wealthy widow Claree Belcher says, “I’m not rich or a widow, but I’m into the character and loving it.”
The peppery, but always witty commentary between White and Betsy Miskell, who plays Ouiser Boudreaux, delivers a catalog of priceless one-liners like: “Ouiser, you sound almost chipper. What happened today – you run over a small child or something?”
Miskell, who has frequently been cast as a curmudgeonly old woman, does not disappoint in the role of Boudreaux.
Will she channel Shirley MacClaine who played the role in the 1987 movie adaptation?
“You can’t help it sometimes because you see her playing the character in the back of your mind,” says Miskell. “I’m having fun with this role – Ouiser is such a character. All the other plays I’ve done I’ve played cantankerous old women, so I’m kind of drawing on that.”
The play spans generations from young to old, and features women from all walks of life,
“We have a blushing bride all the way up to an elderly widow, we have financially well off ladies who bounce checks all over town,” says Smith. “But these women love and support each other. They come together once a week and commune as women, and lift each other up.”
Despite being packed with laughs and effervescent dialogue, most people will have a tough time making it through the play without shedding a tear, especially when M`Lynn (Willson) gives voice to her feelings of grief and betrayal, but death and tragedy only emphasizes the play’s celebration of love and devotion among friends and family.
“It’s about life,” says Cooper. “And it’s relevant to what women face today.”
Show dates at the CTC are Nov 30, Dec. 1 and Dec. 2 at 7 p.m, and Dec 3rd at 2 p.m., $10 for all seating. Call Bonnie Harover at (937)544-2711 for reservations. Tickets will be sold at the door, if available.