‘Steel Magnolias’ – laughter through tears


By Karen Kennedy

“I love you more than my luggage.”

For a woman who has really good luggage, that’s saying a lot. But love is what “Steel Magnolias” is all about. And when Clairee tells Ouiser that she loves her “more than her luggage,” what she’s really saying is that she would do anything in the world for a friend who is truly family to her.

Many people remember “Steel Magnolias” as a marvelous, tear-jerking, heartwarming movie with a fabulous ensemble cast that included Sally Field, Julia Roberts, Shirley MacLaine and Daryl Hannah. But like many great movies it was based on a stage play, and the Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre will present that play beginning Feb. 7.

Robert Harling authored “Steel Magnolias” and based it on a very personal experience surrounding his sister’s death. The play opened in New York City in 1987 and was adapted for the screen in 1998.

For those who have never seen the stage play (or spent an evening with a group of girlfriends crying into a bowl of popcorn), it centers on a group of women in Louisiana: M’Lynn and her daughter, Shelby, who suffers from diabetes and a resulting chronic kidney condition; Truvy, who owns the hair salon where the women often spend their time; a grouchy widow named Ouiser; a cheery, well-to-do widow named Clairee; and a timid new employee named Annelle.

The story takes the women through many of life’s landmark events, including weddings, divorces, births and, inevitably, death. But the crux of the play is the women’s steely resolve to pull each other through with love, laughter and optimism.

Civic’s production stars Kathryn “Kat” Paton (Hendricks County) as M’Lynn and Emily Lantz (Noblesville) as her daughter, Shelby. June McCarty Clair (Carmel) plays Ouiser, Jean Childers Arnold (Indianapolis) plays Truvy, Pamela Kingsley (Westfield) plays Clairee and Casey Votaw (Indianapolis) plays Annelle.

Civic audiences may recognize Lantz (as Shelby, the show’s tragic heroine) from ensemble roles in “Pippin,” “A Chorus Line” and “Guys and Dolls.”

“I’m completely honored to have the opportunity to play this role,” Lantz said. “I remember watching the movie and really being moved by Julia Roberts’ portrayal. Shelby goes through such a huge transformation in the show, from a girl who cares only about appearances to an amazing, strong woman who would literally give her life for her child.”

“You know, plays come and go,” said Civic’s Artistic Director Bob Sorbera. “Of the 100,000 or more plays written over the years, so many of them have a shelf life. Cultures, styles and points of view change over the years. Just a handful of plays are truly timeless, and ‘Steel Magnolias’ is one of them. The characters are well-written, and the story – because it’s based on actual events – really rings true. I’ve had the pleasure of directing this play three times now, once before for Civic in 2003. It can be wildly hilarious and terribly sad, often in the same moment. It’s truly a beautiful play.”

“Steel Magnolias” ● Show times from Feb. 7 through Feb. 22 ● Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre ● The Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel ● Tickets start at $41.50; $31.50 for kids up to age 18 ● For more information call 843-3800 or visit

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