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Women of steel make a comeback

Shauna Farnell
Special to the Daily
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EAGLE COUNTY – There’s a reason why Shakespeare’s plays have been recycled over the last few hundred years, and according to Greg Johnson, its because his work touches on “universal themes” that can be passed from generation to generation. And if there’s one idea that should be hammered into the mind of every generation, it’s that women are powerful. “Steel Magnolias,” the play by Robert Harling that made its debut off-Broadway in 1987 and was made into a blockbuster film starring Sally Field and Dolly Parton in 1989, is making a comeback.

The play is up for discussion tonight thanks to the Vail Symposium and the Vilar Guild and will also be presented at the Vilar Center of the Arts Feb. 23 by the Montana Repertory Theatre.”We were looking at what the Vilar Center was offering, and when we saw ‘Steel Magnolias’ – there are only women on the Vilar Guild – we thought it was something that would be of great interest,” said Sandra Morgan, Vail Symposium Advisory Board member. “There’s a lot of messages in the play that go beyond what we remember from the movie.”The story recounts the lives of a group of highly character-endowed women in a small town in Louisiana. The classic appeal of the play is one that has been recognized by the likes of Broadway, and it will be returning to the big stage, this time on Broadway, this spring with Delta Burke starring as beauty shop owner Truvy. The Montana Repertory Orchestra, in kind, has decided to add the play to its own repertoire of classics, many of which is has already performed at the Vilar Center through the years. “‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’ and ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ they’re American classics, but they’re not comedies,” said Montana Repertory artistic director Greg Johnson. “This is a game you could play,asking yourself, ‘What is the great American comedy?’ It’s tough to come up with it. It’s easy to think of great American dramas – ‘Street Car Named Desire,’ ‘Death of a Salesman …’ but we wanted something in a lighter vein. I had worked on ‘Steel Magnolias’ many years ago. I loved what it did with the audience. This is a story told over and over. Eventually it will be a period piece.”

On the surface, “Steel Magnolias” appears to be a superficial story of women gossiping in a beauty parlor, but the complexity of their lives surfaces as their conversations unfold.”It’s a serious crisis the women go through,” Johnson pointed out. “One woman has health issues with her child. One is dying. What it’s really about is how women stand up for each other. Hence the title, ‘Steel Magnolias.’ The husband left and the son left, but the women stayed and hung in there. Women keep things together – that’s what this play says. The journey the audience goes on is one of my favorites. Laughter through tears is one of my favorite emotions.”While Johnson admitted that the majority of his audiences for “Steel Magnolias” typically consist of women, the theme of the play is one that hits universally, which is why so many in the entertainment industry have decided to resurrect it.”There’s always hills and troughs after a movie’s been done. It goes into like a hibernation period,” he said. “What happens nine times out of 10 is it goes away. The only times a play gets a revival is when it touches a universal theme to be sent down generations. It’s working for us. It’s selling out our shows. It’s what Shakespeare’s been doing for 400 years.”



Staff Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 610, or sfarnell@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado


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