The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, December 10, 2004


Steel Magnolias to be performed in Concord-Carlisle High School Little Theater

CCHS students (left to right) Olivia Vienneau (Truvy), Jenny Schloss (Annelle), Jacquie O'Kelly (Clairee), Susanna Ronalds-Hannon (Shelby) and Mary Halstrom (Ouiser) rehearse Steel Magnolias which opens Saturday night in the CCHS Little Theater. (Photo by Marjorie Johnson)
A few months ago, four talented students at Concord-Carlisle High School presented the first (at least in recent memory) male-only production, the musical Forever Plaid. Now, it's the girls' turn. The play Steel Magnolias, featuring eight young women and directed by music and theater teacher Chuck Brown, will open in the Little Theater at CCHS on Saturday, December 11, and close on Sunday, December 19.

The comedy-drama, written by Southerner Robert Harling, was an off-Broadway success in 1987 before being made into a movie just two years later. The movie, which was nominated for an Academy Award, featured an all-star cast including Sally Fields, Julia Roberts, Dolly Parton, Daryl Hannah, Shirley MacLaine and Olympia Dukakis.

Steel Magnolias takes place entirely within a beauty shop and is based on the strong Southern women Harling knew growing up in Louisiana, and the tragic loss of his sister. Although he himself had never set foot in a beauty shop before writing the play, Harling remembered that every Saturday morning around 9 a.m., all the women in his neighborhood — including his mother — would vanish. About two hours later they all reappeared, he says, "with their little helmet hairdos."

A beauty shop is an ideal setting for female bonding; a place to gossip, laugh, cry and offer advice and understanding. In Steel Magnolias, the beauty shop in fictional Chinquapin, Louisiana, is owned by Truvy, played by Dolly Parton in the movie and by Carlisle senior Olivia Vienneau in the CCHS version. (Junior Ali McGirk shares the role and will appear in some of the performances.)

"Truvy is very bubbly, with a lot of quick one-liners. She's usually the comic relief," says Vienneau of her character. "Truvy is also a peacemaker and sometimes the consoler, when people come in with issues."

Not surprisingly, there are a lot of issues. There's Truvy's new assistant, Annelle (played by Jenny Schloss), who is not quite sure whether or not she's still married. There's the town's wealthy curmudgeon, Ouiser (junior Mary Halstrom), who says, "I'm not crazy, I've just been in a bad mood for 40 years." The town's social leader, M'Lynn (sophomore Jane Bird), is busy planning the wedding of her daughter, Shelby (junior Susanna Ronalds-Hannon), who is "the prettiest girl in town," but also struggles with diabetes. And there's the eccentric millionaire, Miss Clairee (Carlisle senior Jacquie O'Kelly), who is always hatching wild schemes, such as buying a local radio station so she can be the color announcer and claims she is "too colorful for words!" (Sophomore Rebecca Patterson shares this role with O'Kelly.)

"She's fun-loving and loose. I like the fact that because she's the former mayor's widow, she's supposed to be all high society and discreet, and she's really not," says O'Kelly of her character, played by Olympia Dukakis in the movie. "Her role in the show is to loosen everyone up."

Being in an all-female cast has been an interesting experience, says O'Kelly. "We've all been thinking from day one about what brings our characters together. We've been thinking about our friends and why we depend on each other for support, and have brought those experiences to the show to add to our characters."

Depending on one's friends for support during hard times is a main theme in Steel Magnolias, especially in the second act, as Shelby enters into a risky pregnancy and ends up losing her battle with diabetes. This theme has been a particularly poignant one for Vienneau.

"I love this story, and I can relate to it because I have diabetes." During one of the rehearsals, the cast spent some time asking questions about Shelby's insulin reaction. "I told them about blood glucose monitors, and low blood sugar, and things like that. I was glad I could teach them about it so they can understand the character better," she says.

As for the all-girl show, Vienneau says she has enjoyed bonding with her cast-mates and portraying close friendships on stage. Not that her job as beauty stylist/actress doesn't have its challenges. "I just hope I don't forget my lines while painting someone's fingernails," she says.

Steel Magnolias will be performed in the Little Theater at CCHS this weekend on Saturday, Dec. 11 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 12 at 2:30 (there is no Friday show this weekend due to the high school dance), then again next weekend, on Friday and Saturday, Dec. 17 and Dec. 18 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 19 at 2:30. Tickets are $12 each and are available at the door or on-line at

2004 The Carlisle Mosquito