When best-selling author and Ashland resident Neale Donald Walsch told Robin Downward, artistic director of Randall Theatre Company of Medford, that he'd like to direct Robert Harling's popular "Steel Magnolias," Downward knew the company would have a celebratory summer show.
"Steel Magnolias" is loved by audiences, charmed by its many stage productions and the hit 1989 movie, and Walsch is the acclaimed author of the "Conversations With God" series of books. He's also directed more than 35 shows in his 50-year career in professional and community theater.
What: Robert Harling's "Steel Magnolias"
When: 7 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 1 p.m. Sundays, July 26 through Aug. 11
Where: Randall Theatre,
10 E. Third St., Medford
Tickets: $19 for the opening night gala with dinner; $12 for reserved seats for all other shows; pay-what-you-want tickets available at the door 30 minutes before showtime
Call: 541-632-3258 or see www.randalltheatre.com
An opening night gala includes a Southern-style dinner at 6:30 p.m. and a show at 8 p.m. Friday, July 26. Reserved seats cost $19. Other shows are set for 7 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday, July 27-28; 7 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, Aug. 1-3 and 8-10; and 1 p.m. Sundays, Aug. 4 and 11. Reserved seats cost $12. Pay-what-you-want seats are available 30 minutes before showtimes. Randall Theatre is at 10 E. Third St., Medford. Call 541-632-3258 or see www.randalltheatre.com.
All the action in "Steel Magnolias" takes place in Truvy's Beauty Parlor in Natchitoches, La., and recounts the life-changing events — some happy, some heartbreaking — among six women who are a bit ditzy on the outside but strong enough to survive any challenge.
"It's a play that is light and joyous, but it also has a gentle message," Walsch says. "It's a story of loyalty, friendship, strength and courage."
Walsch has assembled a strong cast for this production, including Dee Maaske, a 20-season actor at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, along with local theater veterans Brandy Carson, Judith Rosen, Katie Fisher and Chloe Rosenthal.
On a hunch, he asked longtime friend and Tennessee resident Annie Sims to read for the part of Truvy.
"She was wonderful," he says. "Perfect for the role."
Outside of Maaske, Walsch held auditions for the remaining roles.
While there is always the temptation to play to the comedy in "Steel Magnolias," Walsch wants to take audiences deeper into the lives of these women.
"There is an honesty about these women," he says. "We want the audience to feel they are witnessing pieces of life."
Walsch has written nearly 30 books, and his work has been published in 37 languages. He maintains an extensive lecture schedule and co-wrote and acted in the feature film "Indigo."
Scenic design for "Steel Magnolias" is by Nick Walsch, who is also production manager. Toni Holley designed the costumes.
"I feel very fortunate to be working with my son, Nick," Walsch says. "Nick has done scenic and lighting design all over the valley, for the Craterian, for the old Actor's Theatre group, for Britt.
"With the production team on this show, we all worked out the concept and then they took over," he adds. "It allowed me to concentrate on working with the actors."
Roberta Kent is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at email@example.com.