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Actresses share a history in Wayside, 'Steel Magnolias'

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Sarah Melinda, as Annelle, left, and Tracey Copeland Halter, as Truvy, rehearse a scene for Wayside’s “Steel Magnolias.” Rich Cooley/Daily

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By Josette Keelor-jkeelor@nvdaily.com

MIDDLETOWN -- Wayside Theatre's performance of Robert Harling's "Steel Magnolias," which begins today, calls together six women in a story about friendship and personal history.

Considering the past among the play's six actresses, most of whom have a history with Wayside, too, they should not have trouble conveying their chemistry to audiences.

Ilona Dulaski, Tracey Copeland Halter and guest director William Diggle were part of Wayside's performance of the play 11 years ago.

"The story of the play has a profound effect on people," said Wayside's artistic director Warner Crocker. "It's tremendously popular and deservedly so."

"It will be different because there's a different director this time," he said.

Diggle, who was an intern for the 2000 production, is directing his second play in a row this summer. "The Nerd" was his first, though he has directed in the past.

"That show 11 years ago was and is one of my favorites on the Wayside stage, which says a lot because I wasn't in it," Diggle said of "Steel Magnolias."

As an intern, he worked backstage on the show.

There's something about the camaraderie among the women in "Magnolias" that draws in viewers, Crocker said.

A lot of people think of it as a chick flick or a women's play, he said, but he recalls plenty of men asking about the show and looking forward to its presentation at Wayside.

"That mystery of what do women say when we are not around," Diggle said makes the show more interesting for men. "There's a lot of humor."

The story of women who gather at Truvy's Beauty Salon in Chinquapin, La., to have their hair done, "Magnolias" is both comedy and drama. The plot covers several years in the women's lives, dealing with marriage, birth, death and illness.

Dulaski and Halter especially feel connected to the show because they both will reprise former roles.

"We were way too young for the roles 11 years ago," said Halter, who plays Truvy.
Dulaski, who plays Ouiser, told Halter to speak for herself.

Halter said she previously did not have the life experience to be able to connect with the role like she can today.

"I've lived a little," she said. "She's a woman with two kids and a husband, and now I'm a woman with two kids and a husband." If that were not enough motivation to recommit to the role, she said, last time she had to quit the play when she learned of the death of her father.

"My mom and sister were on their way to see the play," she said. "I feel like I have unfinished business with 'Steel Magnolias.'"

Wayside had understudies at the time, Diggle said, so the role of Truvy was covered in Halter's absence.

Halter said recent rehearsals have allowed her to approach the role anew, since it's been so long since she last performed as Truvy.

"I remember the feeling; I loved doing it," she said. "I definitely remember that experience fondly."

Sarah Melinda plays Annelle, Faith Potts plays Clairee and Dana Colagiovanni plays M'Lynn. First-timer at Wayside, Emelie Faith Thompson, who plays Shelby, knows the play from performing in a production at Shenandoah University when she was a student.

"These six ladies rock," Crocker said.

"They work together wonderfully," Diggle agreed. It helps that every actress in the play already knew at least one other actress from performing together before.

"That gives you an instant sense of ensemble," Diggle said.

"Steel Magnolias" will open at Wayside Theatre in Middletown today at 2:30 p.m. and will run through Sept. 24. Performances are Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 p.m., and Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. For tickets and information, call the box office at 869-1776 or visit www.waysidetheatre.org.

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