|Jodie Weiss (back left) and Elyse Wolf (front right) |
with Emily Mohney (front left) and Michelle Chin (back right)
photo by Reg Madison Photography
by Gil Benbrook
Robert Harling's Steel Magnolias is a beloved, popular play that has been been making audiences experience laughter through tears for over 30 years. While many may be more familiar with the highly successful film adaptation that starred Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Julia Roberts, Olympia Dukakis, Shirley MacLaine and Daryl Hannah, what some may not know is that Harling's piece is actually based on his family and people he knew growing up in a small town in the south.
The Phoenix Theatre Company's current production of the comedy/drama stars six local actresses, many of whom, like the women in the play, have been friends for years or worked together before and that familiarity they have with each other translates to the fierce friendships of the women in the play.
Two of the actresses in Phoenix Theatre's production, Elyse Wolf who plays M'Lynn Eatenton, and Jodie Weiss who plays Truvy Jones, sat down to answer some questions about their characters, this production, and the lasting impact of Harling's play.
What can you tell us about the character you play?
Elyse Wolf: "I play M'Lynn Eatenton. She is an upper middle class working mother of three. I think the main character trait of M'Lynn's is control and strength. Having raised a very sick child, I think M'lynn prides herself on preparedness and is confident in her ability to 'take care' of everyone she loves."
Jodie Weiss: "Truvy LOVES romance- she craves romance . . . she has no romance in her life. Her husband has been out of work for a very long time and is depressed and has low self-worth which has affected his 'romance' drive. Truvy is a caretaker. She is conflict averse and consequently uses humor to deflect and diffuse tension. She is a loyal friend and loves her ladies."
Steel Magnolias first premiered Off-Broadway in 1987 and was adapted into the highly successful 1989 film. What do you think makes this play still relevant today, over 30 years later?
Wolf: "The themes of this play are so universal. This is a play about the deep bonds of friendship and human connection. No one can do life alone, we need to be listened to, laughed with, hugged, made fun of and supported by our friends and loved ones. I think we get that now this year more than ever. "
Weiss: "Now, more than ever, we need to know who our community is, who the pals that we can rely on are - who will help us through the very tough times and who will help us laugh and enjoy the fabulous times. That's what this show is about at its core."
Having been immortalized by a group of famous actresses in the hit film, how do you bring a fresh take to a character played by someone as well-known as Sally Field or Dolly Parton in the movie version?
Wolf: "It's a bit daunting actually. Sally Field is an icon and one of my all-time favorites! As an actress, I find that whatever role you play has to be based on you as a person. I am playing my own truth under M'lynn's circumstances. As much as I enjoy the film, I have tried to stay away from it through this whole process so I can really dive into my own feelings within the world of the play. .I am trying to make the role my own, but in the end, I hope you like me, you really like me."
Weiss: "Everyone who plays Truvy brings their life experiences to their portrayal. Dolly brought hers, I bring mine - many of which are VERY close to Truvy's. Whether or not it's 'fresh' - who knows. But it's different and it's genuine."
Many of the actresses in this production have appeared together in either other Phoenix Theatre shows, or in shows at other theatres in town. I have to imagine those close friendships helped to portray the incredibly close characters in this production, but what was the most difficult thing you found in creating your role?
Wolf: "I have had the great pleasure of working with Michelle Chin and Patti Suarez before. I knew Maria Amorocho and Jodie Weiss and had seen and loved their work on stage. Ms. Emily Mohney was the only one I did not know. She and I had a little pre-rehearsal get together at my place and it was lovely from the get go. I have to say, we all just kind of fell in love with each other from day one. There is nothing more powerful than sharing yourself and the stage with strong, talented, sassy women. This cast has that in spades! I think the most challenging part of creating M'Lynn for me was the last scene. I can't imagine there is anyone on the planet who hasn't seen either the film or stage version of this piece, but in case there is, that is all I will say. "
Weiss: "For me one of the biggest challenges was to discover the role anew. I've played Truvy before, but I wanted to rediscover who she is, what makes her tick, why she is the way she is. That was fun - and the amazing actresses in this show really helped in that process and shaped Truvy for me."
|Jodie Weiss and Elyse Wolf|
with Patti Suarez
photo by Reg Madison Photography
The 6 women in this play are incredibly strong but also incredibly vulnerable. Is there one character that you most identify with, and why?
Wolf: "Honestly, I think I identify most with my own character, M'Lynn. I find her sense of self control and confidence with insecurity and vulnerability hidden on the inside very much like myself. "
Weiss: "Well, unfortunately, my father passed away during the first week of rehearsals, so I have had a deep connection to M'Lynn's character and journey."
This production not only has an all-female cast, but also a female director, lighting designer, costume designer and crew. What has that experience been like?
Wolf: "AMAZING! In the words of my favorite podcast, True Crime Obsessed, 'Let the women do the work!' "
Weiss: "The experience has been absolutely a dream! Seriously. As well as all the amazingly positive energy in the room - the support for each other is stunning. When my father passed - these women did exactly what the characters do in the play - they gathered around me and held me up with love and support for whatever I needed. They are all so very loving, humorous and special."
Steel Magnolias is a comedy/drama that focuses on a group of mothers, wives and best friends. Elyse, you've played several mothers, wives or best friends in past Phoenix Theatre productions, including Calendar Girls, Hand to God, Mamma Mia! and Fun Home, all of which also have moments of comedy and drama. Your character M'Lynn has a powerhouse monologue toward the end of the play that perfectly combines the heart and humor in the show. How difficult is it to walk the fine line between comedy and drama in this play, and do you think any of the past characters you've played in the shows I mentioned could have been friends with M'Lynn if they happened to live in Chinquapin?
Wolf: "First off, I love me some good comedy and some good drama equally. When they are combined into one piece, it is magical. I mean, think about it. Humor often is the first place we go when we are hurting and want some comfort or distraction. I think that is the crutch we use as humans. But also, we all relish in humor. It feeds our souls and comforts our hearts. It can be a fine line, but it is a familiar fine line. I don't think M'Lynn would have been friends with any of the other characters I have played LOL!"
Jodie, your character owns and runs the hair salon that is the setting for the play and throughout the show we see you wash, dry and style hair on stage. Did you have any experience in that, or did you have to learn how to "do" hair? And what are some of the technical hurdles you face in not only having to do that in front of a live audience but timing the completion of the hair styles to coincide with the appropriate moments and lines in the script?
Weiss: "I styled wigs during graduate school in California and I cut my kids, and mom, and sisters' hair - I’ve also played the role before - so, I’m fairly comfortable around hair styling - that being said - I learned a LOT this time from the incomparable Terre Steed, our make up/hair designer for this show.)"
There are so many famous lines from the play. Which one is your favorite and why?
Wolf: "My favorite line is Truvy's. 'Louie brought his girlfriend home for Thanksgiving. The nicest thing I can say about her is all her tattoos are spelled correctly.' Love it! Don't know why, just do!"
Weiss: " 'Time marches on- and eventually you realize it's marching right across yer face'! My current feelings!"
What do you hope audiences will take away from seeing Steel Magnolias at Phoenix Theatre?
Wolf: "We are stronger together than alone. "
Weiss: "I hope they realize that they are not alone when tragedy strikes. That they have a community to reach out to. That there is still love in the world."