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Don't let the accents fool you
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A beloved Southern comedy comes to life onstage this weekend, as the AASU Department of Art, Music & Theatre performs Steel Magnolias at the Jenkins Theatre on campus.

However, fans of the popular 1989 film version, about a young woman in Louisiana struck with illness but determined to live life to the fullest, should know there are a few differences.

“In the stage version all the action is in Truvy’s beauty salon, which is a converted garage,” says director Pam Sears, AASU professor of theatre. “You don’t ever see the men in their lives.”

Sears says that forcing the audience to use their imagination to picture offstage characters can sometimes be more effective than ever seeing the characters.

“You can really learn a lot about the characters you don’t see, primarily by what is said about them,” she says.

Also, Sears says, “the play has a bit more comic tone than the movie. The drama is still there, but it’s definitely undercut by comedy.”

Steel Magnolias began as a short story written in ten days by Robert Harling after the death of a sister following childbirth. It was, he later admitted, the first thing he’d ever written.

Harling developed the story into a script first produced off-Broadway at the WPA Theatre, then produced on Broadway in 1987, where it ran for over 1100 performances.

The film version starred Julia Roberts as Shelby (a role for which she was given an Oscar nomination), Olympia Dukakis as Clairee, Shirley MacLaine as Ouiser, Daryll Hannah as Annelle, Sally Field as M’Lynn, and Dolly Parton as salon owner Truvy.

Sears says her all-female cast is primarily composed of AASU theatre majors, with the exception of Truvy, played here by nursing major Melissa McNaughton.

“There were not a lot of theatre majors at the auditions who fit her character -- this is her space, her environment,” says Sears, explaining the difficulty of casting that larger-than-life role.

Other cast members of this Masquers production are Erin Solomons as Annelle, Cheryl Tech as Ouiser Boudreaux, Michelle Fekete as Clairee Belcher, Bess McCreary as M’Lynn and Samantha Noon as Shelby Eatenton.

Sears says the title of the play says it all.

“It’s about these women who spend so much time dolling themselves up, but are much stronger on the inside than you’d expect,” she says. “It’s surprising even to them.”

Sears says even though the setting is as Southern as you can get, not all the actors are native Southerners.

“A lot of them are looking to older women in their lives for tips and inspiration -- grandmothers, great aunts. I think they’ve gained a lot of respect in the process,” Sears says.

“It’s been absolutely interesting to watch. We have characters ranging up to 69 years old, all being played by twenty-something women, all of them sort of embracing the grace of womanhood,” she says.

“It’s been a really good journey for the actors.”

The AASU Masquers perform Steel Magnolias July 21-23 at 7:30 p.m. in AASU’s Jenkins Theater. General admission tickets are $8. Senior citizens, military personnel, AASU staff/faculty, and all students are admitted for $7 each. (Cash or check only).