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"Steel Magnolias" opens with laughs, tears

The University of Saint Francis staged its first show in the new USF Performing Arts Center March 23-25, serving up gales of laughter and a few moments of heartfelt grief in its delivery of “Steel Magnolias.”

“Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion,” Truvvy observes during the show, and laughter was an important component of show rehearsals, said director Brad Beauchamp.

Cast members drew from the local and USF communities and became good friends as they portrayed the play’s fictional friendships between Southern belles. “They really bonded,” Beauchamp said. “Just the other night we had a fantastic rehearsal. Was it the greatest rehearsal ever? No. The whole thing fell apart a number of times, but they were having fun. They were really gelling, and that’s what needs to happen for a show like this.”

But while the show was much about laughter, it drew from a tragic event. Playwright Robert Harling wrote it at the encouragement of his friends as a way to cope with the grief of losing his closest friend, his sister Susan, to diabetes. It began as a short story and evolved into a full-length play based on the complexity of the characters and their relationships.

“In spending time with the cast, I found it quite interesting how many of them had previously been in other productions of the show,” Beauchamp said. “TJ McCombs has now been involved with this show at four different theaters playing three different roles, Clairee twice, Truvy and M’Lynn. Molly McCray has played both Truvy and Ouiser, and Suzan Moriarty played M’Lynn and now Truvy—quite an unusual occurrence.

“When we talked about why they all auditioned yet again, I was struck by a common theme. They all admitted that usually they would be hesitant about auditioning for a show they had done previously, but this one was special. There is such a rich quality about the characters, their emotions, their choices and, most importantly, how they relate to every other character. It is interesting to note that all of the life changing decisions in the play are made off stage. What we see as an audience is how they deal with those choices, and how their friends react. There is approval, disappointment, encouragement, rage, laughter and unconditional support.”

The beautiful auditorium disappointed no one, and will be a decided plus as USF moves toward locating some of its arts program to the center. “It’s a beautiful auditorium and will give our students a wealth of opportunities for hands-on experiences they wouldn’t have had before,” Beauchamp said.

“Steel Magnolias” opens with laughs, tears

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