Magnolias in Bloom
The Charleston Acting Studio to debut Steel Magnolias just in time for Valentine’s Day
By Charlie Morrison
If you’re in for a laugh and a cry along with some romance this Valentine’s Day, you needn’t stray from ol’ Jim Isle, as Midtown Productions and the Charleston Acting Studio debut Robert Harley’s 1987 off-Broadway comedy-drama Steel Magnolias this Thursday, Jan. 14, at the Studio’s Camp Road theater. According to Midtown and the Charleston Acting Studio head Sheri Grace Wenger, the production promises to be special. Not only is Wenger herself deeply entwined with the history of the play here in Charleston, but this production features a cast that stands out, even in the long, proud history of Midtown Productions.
“This is one of my favorite plays,” says Wenger of Magnolias, a play she performed in when it debuted in Charleston then three years later produced herself. “It’s always been one of those plays that’s so heart warming, and funny, funny, funny all the way through … and then it rips your heart out by the end.”
Steel Magnolias is a true to life tale set in Truvy’s Beauty Salon, ground zero for the comical, sometimes surreal world of the deep south. The core of the play is the dialogue between the women, who collectively face the realities of life’s fragility, though with good humor throughout. Robert Harley wrote loosely based on the lives of his family, particularly his sisters and his mother, a fact that, according to Wenger, comes through in both the script and her cast.
“One thing about this play is that these are real women,” says Wenger of the play “It’s a true story told by a family member. It’s about real people, and they are real people. Their stories are important, and I do have the best talent in helping tell their stories … I mean, these women are talented.”
The talented cast features Emily Giant as “Shelby,” Leslie Vicary as “M’Lynn.” Susie Hallatt as “Truvy,” Hope Grayson as “Clairee,” Susan Lovell as “Ouiser,” and Joanna Cretella as “Annelle.” Greyson, a veteran of more than 50 productions who’s been acting seriously since the age of 5, will lead the stellar cast, who individually or as a group could shine on any Charleston stage.
“If you get your casting right you can almost sit back and breathe, working with these women has been so fun. They still, as experienced as they are, they still listen and follow direction,” says Wenger of a play she’s “just been waiting on producing again.”
Backing Wenger will be Wenger’s son and veteran set designer Ryan Ahlert, stage manager Anne Maree Lawrence, her assisstant Doug Clinton, along with costume designer Kristen Bushey.
While Steel Magnolia’s should be Midtown Productions and the Charleston Acting Studio at their best, Wenger still worries about the long-term viability of James Island’s only legitimate stage production group. “We are a theater of quality that rivals anything done downtown. We’re here because we thought it would be great to have an arts center on James Island because its such a family-oriented, populated burgh, and it hasn’t really panned out,” says Wenger of the Charleston Acting Studio tenure on the island.
“Most of the people who come see shows here are not from James Island … I talk to people here on the island and they still don’t know we’re here, and I’m not sure why that is,” says Wegner. “We want people to know that we’re here, we have really high-quality work, we have the best directors and the best productions, we think, using top-notch actors and directors.”
Steel Magnolias opens 8 p.m. this Thursday, Feb. 14, with subsequent 8 p.m. evening performances to be held on Feb. 15, 16, 21, 22, 23, as well as on March 1, 2, 7, 8, and 9. There will be two 3 p.m. Sunday matinee shows, on Feb. 24 and again on March