Seacoast Rep Presents STEEL MAGNOLIAS
The Mad Men of Oopsy Daisy, the creative duo known for their popular, edgy productions of musicals and "Red Light" adult events at the Seacoast Repertory Theater, are taking a new "hyper-realistic" tack for their latest mainstage play, the beloved dramatic comedy Steel Magnolias .
Rather than abstract flights of fancy, "We're presenting a really hyper-realistic, beautiful story in exactly the way it's meant to be told. For us, that is the sexy twist on it," said Brandon James, who together with his "Mad Men" partner Ben Hart, is directing the show.
Steel Magnolias opens at the Seacoast Rep on May 10, in time for Mother's Day weekend. Its run coincides with a 30th anniversary rerelease of the enduringly popular movie based on the play. It tells of the bonds among a group of women at a beauty parlor in a small Louisiana town, and how they are affected by the illness and early-motherhood death of one of their circle.
The 1987 play was written by Robert Harling in 10 days to cope with the death of his sister from diabetes complications. It draws heavily on the characters of the women in their lives.
"All of the women in the play that he wrote about were all real women that he grew up with in this Louisiana town. The dialogue is things that he remembered these women saying and these characters were real people that he wrote about," James said. "It's a very 80's piece and it's a very southern piece. It's also a very human piece."
The movie, which Harling also wrote, is a faithful adaptation of the play. The Seacoast Rep's production stays true to both.
"If you love the movie you get exactly what you loved about the movie on stage," James said. "All of the famous, iconic lines that people love about the movie are here in the show."
In their quest for a hyper-real production, James and Hart recreated to the smallest details the story's setting of an in-home beauty parlor. They lucked out by finding a stylist's complete salon from the 1980s.
"We got her whole salon with all the vintage chairs and vintage equipment. It's literally exactly what that salon would have been and it all still works," Hart said. "Inside the salon there's running water and working outlets and they're actually cutting hair and washing hair and drying hair on stage," he said.
Executing the haircuts and styling on stage was the biggest challenge, Hart said. Cast members trained with professional cosmetologists and beauticians. The opening scene depicts preparations for the wedding of the young woman, Shelby, played by one of the Rep's versatile resident artists, Alyssa Dumas. "You have to believe at the end of the styling that she's going to her wedding," Hart said.
Samantha Smith emerges from a longtime production manager role at the Rep to appear in the spotlight as a newcomer to town, Annelle. "She has surprised everyone with an immense level of talent. She is a masterful actress; it came completely out of left field," James said.
The other four roles are played by Cathy McKay, Kelli Leigh-Ann Connors, Mary Lou Bagley, and Seraphim Afflick, whom James called, "award-winning grand dames of the New England theater scene."
"The cast is an absolute powerhouse cast. If we were to get a billion-dollar budget and remake the movie, these are the women we would cast in the movie version of the show."
James contrasted the Steel Magnolias cast with the youthful high-energy casts of many of the Mad Men productions for the Seacoast Rep, such as Avenue Q and Reefer Madness. "This has been a very different process in that it's more quiet, it's more intimate. It's a room full of professional adults exploring the human experience."
He said the simplicity of the production serves to highlight its humanity; "It's a small little cast, it's six really super talented women. There's no technical aspects, there's no special effects. It's just a beautiful human story. You have your tears. It's funny and it's heartwarming."
Steel Magnolias runs May 10-June 1. Show times are Thursdays at 7:30, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2 pm and 8 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm. Tickets are available through the Seacoast Rep box office at 603-433-4472, or online at www.seacoastrep.org/tickets. For student discounts, call the box office. The Seacoast Repertory Theatre's 2019 season is sponsored in part by Bondgarden Farms, Martingale Wharf, MacEdge, the Sheraton Portsmouth Harborside Hotel and Key Heating and Air Conditioning.