It’s the setting for Steel Magnolias, a play that follows the lives of women facing tough decisions, buoyed in part by their shared girl power.
Most people know Steel Magnolias from the 1989 film, with its big-time cast including Sally Field, Dolly Parton, and Julia Roberts. Set in the deep South, its title reflects the idea that women are both delicate and strong.
Director Karla Koskinen, a professor with the University of Alabama at Birmingham, gets it. And she’s especially excited about working on this particular play now.
“This is the perfect play for thinking about pandemic life,” says Koskinen. “It looks at what’s important in life and how to move forward amid loss.”
Robert Harling, a Southerner with a law degree who opted for acting in New York City rather than taking the bar exam, wrote the play to honor his sister, who died of complications from type 1 diabetes.
“There’s loss in the play but they get through it with connections and community,” says Koskinen. “There’s a sisterhood, and we all need that, especially now.”
Turns out, there’s also an all-female crew. “It’s great to be in this all female environment, where we’re really celebrating all these women working on the show together.”
The characters represent particular archetypes, but Koskinen says she focused on authenticity in making her directorial choices. “I didn’t want to portray these women as stereotypes; I wanted the actors to bring their own truths to the story.”
Moving forward, she’s eager to see more women writing and directing live theater. “It’s true that there are more roles for women now, but what we really need is more women playwrights,” she says. “When we change the nature of playwrights, we change the nature of theater itself.”
Phoenix Theatre Company performs Steel Magnolias inside the Hormel Theatre, 1825 North Central Avenue, through September 12. Ticket prices vary.