Irene Crist has been in scads of stage productions, directed many others, and goodness knows how many she’s seen.
But never “Steel Magnolias.”
Hard to believe since it’s a favorite of so many community theaters and schools. DeSoto Family Theatre staged it last month, and Germantown Community Theatre put it on in September 2012.
Of course, the fact that Crist hasn’t seen a “Steel Magnolias” stage production doesn’t mean a thing as she gets ready to present it at Hattiloo Theatre.
“I’d never seen ‘Angels in America’ either,” she noted. She directed that critically praised drama last season at Playhouse on the Square, winning an Ostrander for best direction of a dramatic production. It also hauled off an additional six Ostrander awards.
So go ahead and let your expectations be high. “‘Steel Magnolias’ is a great story that intrigued me, and I like to tell stories,” the acclaimed director says.
The fact that the cast is African-American won’t make a significant difference, Crist says, although the production will have its own energy. “It’s not that it’s different because it’s black,” she says. “Sisterhood is sisterhood — but there’s a slight difference in the kind of sisterhood. African-Americans invented sisterhood, so I think it’s a terrific fit for them.”
The characters all have their own quirks and personalities. “While they may live and work in the same area, they’re very different women,” Crist says. Yet they transcend differences when they enter the salon.
“It’s all about a group of women who are not necessarily people that would normally socialize, but there they are,” she says. “I’ve told secrets to my manicurist, and that’s what happens in a beauty salon. If you go weekly, they get to know things about you that you might not tell your mother.”
The Hattiloo stage is a tiny thing, but that, Crist says, works in favor of the production.
“It’s a beauty parlor!” she says. “And they’re not much bigger than that stage.” That intimacy affirms the notion of the diverse women sharing their lives.
This is the first time at Hattiloo for Crist, who is a resident company member at Playhouse on the Square. “I’ve never had the opportunity to work with Ekundayo Bandele,” she says, referring to the theater’s founder and executive/artistic director. “I’ve admired his work and determination and how he gets things done,” she says. He reminds me of Jackie (Nichols, founder and executive producer of Playhouse).”
So earlier this year, she sent Bandele an e-mail saying she had a break from Playhouse and wanted to work with him. “And he said, ‘Have I got a show for you!’”
After “Steel Magnolias,” it’s back to Playhouse, where Crist will be acting in “Other Desert Cities” with Jerry Chipman and Kim Justis at Circuit in January, directing “The Diary of Anne Frank” in March and performing in “The Lyons” in May.
The “Steel Magnolias” cast includes Bronzjuan Worthy as M’Lynn, Emma Crystal as Truvy, Jackie Muskin as Ouiser, Gia Broadway as Annelle, Sophia Livingston as Clairee and Jessica Johnson as Shelby.
Hattiloo Theatre, 652 Marshall, through Nov. 3. Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays; 2 p.m. Oct. 26. Tickets: $22; $18 students/seniors on Thursdays and Sundays. $25; $22 students/seniors on Fridays and Saturdays. Information: Call 901-525-0009 or hattiloo.org.