Community Players Centennial Season Opens With Heartwarming Production Of “Steel Magnolias”


The Community Players Theater kicked off its 100th season Thursday with a new production of Robert Harling’s “Steel Magnolias.”

If reading the title stirs memories of Dolly Parton, Olympia Dukakis and Shirley MacLaine, then you’re in for a treat with local artists Lynne Christian, Diane Walker and Lorraine Bouchard tackling the same witty and heartfelt roles as these iconic actors.

“Steel Magnolias” runs over two weekends until 9/11 at the Community Players Theater in Bloomington.

By day, Penny Wilson is a busy realtor hustling in Bloomington’s boiling real estate market. But in the evening, she is a theater director.

Wilson spoke with WGLT just before the curtain went up on Thursday.

“I’ve been here since about 1989,” Wilson said, marking Community Players’ 1989 Christmas show titled “Holiday on Robinhood Lane” as his first production with the company. Favorite shows since then include 2014’s ‘Of Mice and Men’ and 2004’s ‘Camelot’.

Since that first Christmas show, Wilson has returned again and again, and not just as a director — she’s also acted, designed costumes, done wigs and hair, and painted sets.

“I think we put on great productions and that draws in the audience,” she said.

The 1989 film adaptation of “Steel Magnolias” put Julia Roberts on the map, earning the young actress her first Oscar and Golden Globe for her performance as Shelby.

But the staging came before the film. Written two years earlier, “Steel Magnolias” originally opened on Broadway at the WPA Theater. Jason Moore directed the Broadway version which opened in 2005 at the Lyceum Theater and ran for over 150 performances.

The play is notably different from the film.

“He stays in the beauty salon,” Wilson said, adding that the six women at the center of the plot are the only performers on stage. “But every line you hear will be familiar to you.”

The late 1980s vintage of “Steel Magnolias” is reflected in the sets and costumes, as is its fictional location in a Louisiana parish outside of Shreveport. But Wilson said the themes explored in the play resonate with audiences today.

Shelby is a new bride and mother who dies of complications from diabetes. The plot is based on the true story of Harling’s sister, Susan.

“It’s about friendship and what we do in times of joy, and in times of sadness and grief,” Wilson said.

The key to these friendships lies in the cross-generational experiences of the six women, who seem to have little in common other than frequenting their neighborhood salon.

Likewise, each Community Players cast member is a different age and has brought different levels of experience to the rehearsal process.

“We have veteran actors, we have actors who’ve done a few shows — we have an actress who hasn’t done any shows before that,” Wilson said. “They bonded so early and worked so hard…I’m so happy with what they’re going to present.”

Steel Magnolias runs September 2-4 and September 9-11 at the Community Players Theater, 201 Robinhood Lane, Bloomington. Tickets are $9 to $17 at communityplayers.org.

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