Community Players tackle the sweet, funny sadness of ‘Steel Magnolias’

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MONMOUTH — It has been about a quarter of a century since America first met the “Steel Magnolias” of Chinquapin, La. They are again on stage at Cumston Hall in a production by Monmouth Community Players opening Feb. 1.

“Steel Magnolias” follows six ladies through 18 months as they cross paths at a small-town beauty salon. There, they trade good-natured barbs and teasing as they confront a heart-wrenching trial of life.

Adam Blais, who directs “Steel Magnolias,” described the show as an exceptionally good mix of comedy and drama. He said he has a very talented ensemble cast of six women for the popular play.

Truvy, played by Julie Poulin of North Monmouth, runs a salon out of the carport of her home. That’s where all the ladies who are “anybody” in town have their hair done. She is assisted by her eager new apprentice, Annelle (Emily Trefethen of Monmouth), who may or may not be married.

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Among the ladies of the neighborhood, to whom Truvy generously dispenses hairspray and pearls of wisdom, are Ouiser (Kathleen Nation of Monmouth), the town’s rich curmudgeon; Clairee (Jeanne Fletcher of Monmouth), the former mayor’s wife who has a raging sweet tooth; and M’Lynn (Colleen Mahan of Greene), the local mental health professional who clashes regularly with her headstrong daughter, Shelby (Sabrina Yocono of Lewiston).

The story takes place on one set, which is the beauty parlor. It opens on the morning of Shelby’s marriage to Jackson, a “good ole boy.” The play’s four scenes cover the coming months, including Shelby’s decision to have a child despite having Type 1 diabetes, and the complications that result from that decision.

When tragedy strikes, the women of Chinquapin come together to support each other in the only way they know how, through humor and love.

The play is alternately hilarious and touching, and, in the end, deeply revealing of the strength and purposefulness which underlies the antic banter of its characters.

There’s also a glimpse of the unlikely friendship between Clairee and Ouiser, of Annelle’s surprising personality changes, and of Truvy’s relationships with the men in her family.

“Steel Magnolias” was a 1989 film that starred Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine, Olympia Dukakis, Dolly Parton, Daryl Hannah, and Julia Roberts. The original stage production opened Off-Broadway at the WPA Theatre in New York City, on March 28, 1987.

As noted in the special features on the “Steel Magnolias” DVD, the story is based on the death of Robert Harling’s younger sister, Susan Harling Robinson, a diabetic. Harling found it difficult to cope with her death and his friends advised him to write about his feelings. Harling felt it was important to include the way the characters used humor and lighthearted conversations to cope with the seriousness of the underlying situations.

Blais is the show’s scenic designer as well as director. Emily Trefethen is the costume designer, and Paula Masselli is the property designer. The stage manager is Josie French.

Original music has been composed by Mike French and lighting design is by Xi Chen.

Performances of “Steel Magnolias” are at Cumston Hall, 796 Main St., Monmouth, at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, Feb. 1-2 and 8-9, and at 2 p.m. on Sundays, Feb. 3 and 10. Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for students and seniors.

For tickets call 514-4929 or visit www.monmouthcommunityplayers.com.

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