An exciting all-star cast will lead the Bucks County Playhouse’s staging of Robert Harling’s saucy Southern comedy, Steel Magnolias, bringing noteworthy names in film, TV and stage together from May 28-June 18.
Among the cast are Patricia Richardson (Home Improvement) as M’Lynn, Susan Sullivan (Falcon Crest) as Clairee, and Jessica Walter (Arrested Development) as Ouiser. Of course, all three women have also appeared on Broadway and done numerous other stage and screen roles during their illustrious careers.
”I have always loved this play and it’s my favorite thing in that it’s comedy, drama, comedy, drama, comedy, drama — so it constantly surprises the audience and that’s the best thing to do,” Ms. Richardson says. “We’re all playing it as a drama and that’s the best way to do comedy. My favorite ‘Home Improvement’ episodes were based in realty. I always asked the writers, ‘what’s happening in our lives at this point in the story if someone was looking through our windows?’ That’s what you’re looking for.”
Steel Magnolias follows the conversations and connections between six distinctly different women who talk, gossip and share stories at Truvy’s Beauty Salon in Chinquapin, Louisiana, forging an everlasting bond along the way.
The play, which was adapted into a hit 1989 film starring Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine, Dolly Parton and Julia Roberts, is based on the real life of Mr. Harling, and his experiences dealing with the tragic death of someone he loves.
”Robert had been around these women and talked to us all about this incredible town where the women run the town, and what happened between them all,” Ms. Richardson says. “This play is about this friendship between the women and supporting each other through everything. I think even men can relate to that.”
Unlike the movie, where the action takes place throughout the town, the play is exclusively staged in the beauty shop. There are other subtle differences as well.
”I remember in the movie you see the hospital and it was a little more Sally (Field)-heavy, but I really like how the play is contained in the beauty shop,” Ms. Richardson says. “Robert talked about when he was kid and no men were allowed in that shop. If he needed something, he had to knock and couldn’t enter. What’s amazing to me is he wrote all this dialogue between these women without ever hearing a word of what really went on in that room. It’s so heartfelt, and we all try so hard to get every word exactly perfect.”
Ms. Richardson has a rich history working with Southern writers.
”Beth Henley (who wrote ‘Crimes of the Heart’) was a friend and we went to college together. I created two roles in her plays: ‘The Wake of Jamey Foster’ and ‘The Miss Firecracker Contest,’” she says. “A couple of years ago, I did an original Alfred Uhry play (‘Apples & Oranges’) at the Alliance Theatre, and so I’m just working my way through the Southern playwrights.”
The play will be directed by four-time Oscar nominee — and Bucks County favorite —Marsha Mason, who played Ouiser in a 2005 Broadway revival of the play. Gabe Weissman will co-direct the Bucks production.
”Marsha is brilliant. She sees the whole picture and knows how to direct each person and knows this play so well having done it on Broadway,” Ms. Richardson says. “And look at the way she cast this play. I’m looking around these women and I am intimidated. It’s hard for me not to turn around and be an audience member watching them all. The group is just so wonderful.”
The cast also includes Clea Alsip (Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at Bucks County Playhouse) as Shelby; Lucy DeVito (the daughter of Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman) whose credits include Nora Ephron’s Love, Loss and What I Wore) as Annelle; and Elaine Hendrix (Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll) as Truvy.
”Clea, the girl who plays my daughter, is such a find and so wonderful,” Ms. Richardson says. “We are getting along so well. Lucy doesn’t need to be the daughter of Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman, she’s so unique and wonderful. Elaine is a star, just so down to Earth. I was already a big fan of Susan and Jessica already. Jessica is such a hoot in this and it’s so different than anything she’s ever done before. I think everyone is going to be impressed by how incredible this cast is.”
Steel Magnolias will performed at Bucks County Playhouse, 70 S. Main St., New Hope, Pennsylvania, May 28-June 18. For tickets and information, go to buckscountyplayhouse.org or call 215-862-2121.