The latest Garage Door Theatre production in Pilot Point has a lot of Denton representation.
For the Denton residents playing roles in Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias, both the play and its director brought them about a 30-minute drive north of Denton for weeknight rehearsals.
“Steel Magnolias and Bill,” said Kay Lamb, who plays the role of Ouiser Boudreaux in the play. “That’s what got me here.”
Director Bill Kirkley has led a lot of shows for Denton Community Theatre and Music Theatre of Denton. He’s directing his first show for the Garage Door Theatre in Pilot Point. He spent years as a Denton resident before moving to Providence Village just east of Denton.
“I got an email about Steel Magnolias from DCT,” Kirkley said.
The new Pilot Point community theater had lost two directors for the show, and the company threw a net to the nearest community theaters.
“I’d directed the show before, so I figured I had an idea of how to go about it. I offered to do it and they accepted,” Kirkley said.
Steel Magnolias follows a group of women who live and love in Chinquapin Parish, Louisiana. They gather in Truvy Jones’ beauty parlor weekly to laugh, gossip and cheer each other through rough patches. They also celebrate triumphs big and small. M’Lynn Eatenton worries her daughter Shelby will underestimate the rigors of marriage on the day of Shelby’s wedding to lawyer Jackson Latcherie. Clairee Belcher, the wife of the late mayor who is growing into her own place as a business woman, coaches M’Lynn to ease her grip on Shelby — even though she understands M’Lynn’s worry that Shelby won’t manage her diabetes after getting married. Ouiser Boudreaux peppers their lives with cranky one-liners and often-inconvenient realism. Annelle Dupuy arrives at Truvy’s as a new beautician, young, inexperienced but hopeful.
Denton residents fill several roles — Sharon Barnhill appears as Truvy, Lamb plays Boudreaux, Mary Rak plays the role of M’Lynne, and Kerri Peters plays Annelle Dupuy. Micha Marie Stevens, familiar for her work on the Denton stage in Richard III, Other Desert Cities and Calendar Girls, to name a few, lives in Providence Village. She plays Shelby. Judy Lewis, who plays Clairee Belcher, lives in the Savannah area.
The actresses know they performing a play that was adapted into a successful movie 30 years ago. With a cast of A-list actresses in the film, the players said they did their homework to breathe some original life into the characters.
“I watched a couple of movies — Sally Field and Queen Latifah. I also watched a few community theater productions,” Barnhill said.
Stevens said she mentally blocked out Julia Roberts’ turn as Shelby — and every other version.
“I wanted to attack it in my own way,” she said. “I didn’t want to be influenced by the other performances, even though we know people will come to the show thinking about them.”
“Me too,” Rak said. “I mean, you can’t imitate Sally Field. How can you? It’s impossible.”
Barnhill’s Truvy is sweet and ebullient — preoccupied with romance and absorbing Shelby’s nuptial nerves and excitement. Rak’s M’Lynn is world-weary and long-suffering, but still full of natural maternal affection and love.
Peters’ Annelle starts as a mousy, nervous girl who evolves into a self-determined and slightly pious woman (her hair corresponds to each shift, too). In each scene, Peters said, the character learns something new about the women around her.
“One of the things Bill asked us to do was to sit down with the script and go through each line,” Peters said. “He asked us to look at each line and ask ourselves: ‘Is it a laugh line, is it a character line or is it a plot line?’ Annelle has almost no laugh lines.”
Lewis said she studied Clairee and found a truly Southern woman in the lines.
“She has the speech patterns, the turns of phrase,” Lewis said. “She’s a true Southern belle — which isn’t true for everyone. She’s lost her husband, and she wants to make it as her own person.”
Stevens, like Barnhill, Lamb and Peters, has worked with Kirkley before. She said she appreciates how Kirkley pushes his performers into exercises that really help them get a better handle on their characters.
“Bill took us to a salon here on the [Pilot Point] square to rehearse one night,” she said. “He didn’t give us any directions. He just told us to move around the space and do what seemed right. It was a major help, using that space. Bill always has something like this in his shows, and I really love that about his process.”
Kirkley also asked each actress to choose a song they think Shelby would love for a radio playlist. The actresses surprised one another and Kirkley with how well their choices seemed to fit — Barnhill’s “Cowboy Take Me Away,” Rak’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” Lamb’s “Respect,” Lewis’ “That’s What Friends Are For” and Stevens’ “Shake for Me.”
The actresses said their mission is to build realistic relationships between the characters to stage the play they want to perform.
“You have to really think of yourself as a team,” Lewis said.
“For me,” Rak said, “you can never, ever phone in anything. For me, you have to be here in the moment with these ladies. Sometimes that means you never do anything the exact same way. But it’s a nice place to be.”