Potempa: Drury Lane Theatre’s ‘Steel Magnolias’ cooks up recipe for stage success – Chicago Tribune

2022-06-25 04:31:10 By : Ms. Tina Yan

Elizabeth Ledo as Truvy, left, Susie McMonagle, center, and Janet Ulrich Brooks as Ouiser star in a new stage production of “Steel Magnolias” through Aug. 7, 2022 at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook. - Original Credit: Photo by Brett Beiner (Photo by Brett Beiner / HANDOUT)

The first time I saw a stage production of “Steel Magnolias” it was when I was beginning my journalism career writing for The South Bend Tribune (when it was still an afternoon newspaper edition). I was assigned to review a weekend run of this show at the Barn Swallow Theatre in Cassopolis, Michigan in June 1993, just four years after the hit film of the same title attracted award nominations and audiences in 1989.

Yep, it was two years before that blockbuster movie was on the big screen when the “Steel Magnolias” story debuted as play.

After working as an actor in voiceovers and commercials, Robert Harling, who is now 70, enjoyed playwright status when was inspired to write the play “Steel Magnolias,” based on events from his personal life, including the death of his younger sister Susan in 1985 due to complications from diabetes. It had an Off-Broadway premiere in 1987 before Harling adapted his original play into the popular 1989 film of the same title starring Sally Field, Julia Roberts, Shirley MacLaine, Olympia Dukakis, Dolly Parton and Daryl Hannah. Harling can even be seen in a cameo appearance in the film playing the minster at Shelby’s wedding.

This month, nearly 30 years later, it felt like a family reunion to back in a theater seat, and in June, yet again, to experience the friendship fabric of these six southern gals.

This time, it is Drury Lane Theatre’s new production of “Steel Magnolias,” extended through Aug. 7 at this favorite history-rich stage space, 100 Drury Lane in Oakbrook Terrace earning smiles and praise, with a Chicagoland all-star cast of talents as directed by the wonderful Johanna McKenzie Miller.

The cast of Steel Magnolias stars the indomitable Janet Ulrich Brooks as cranky Ouiser, Amy J. Carle as M’Lynn, stage joy Lillian Castillo as beauty parlor assistant Annelle, Cordelia Dewdney as new bride Shelby, a stacked-hair tour de force Elizabeth Ledo as beaming beauty shop proprietress Truvy, and the sensational Susie McMonagle as counter-quick wit salon regular Clairee.

Scenic Designer Angela Weber Miller has dreamed-up a detailed stage landscape with every corner of Truvy’s beauty shop brought to life, from waiting area with magazine rack filled with 1980s retro zines to working salon areas which include water spurting sinks and swiveling chairs. There’s even a visible front porch and Spanish moss hanging from the limbs of unseen oaks. Jessica Pabst captures all of the costume looks of the 1980s with the atmosphere tone framed by the lighting design of Lindsey Lyddan and sound design by Sarah Ramos. Cassy Schillo gets to have fun with prop design, from pink cans of TAB soda pop to campy Christmas décor. Emily Young is hailed as the follicle sculptress for the play’s all-important hair and wig design.

It’s in this unforgettable beauty parlor in northwestern Louisiana where the friendship and foibles of six women are shadowed over their shoulders, by audiences over the course of three years as the ladies face life’s challenges together, providing comfort when roads become rocky and leaning on both humor and compassion to smooth the way.

With a good clean-fun, PG stage-rating, three decades later “Steel Magnolias” still continues to bloom, layered and lush, to impart the everyday lessons of life. Tickets are $64-$79 and are available by calling (630) 530-0111 or www.drurylanetheatre.com.

Within the first 20 minutes of “Steel Magnolias,” both play and film, recipes are tossed around between the characters of Clariee, the former mayor’s wife, and beautician Truvy. One of the recipes is so easy, the characters agree it can be easily memorized rather than for the need to write it down. Called “Cup-a Cup-a Cup-a,” it’s a basic baked fruit cobbler only requiring three ingredients.

In the play, it is Miss Clairee who is requesting this recipe from Truvy.

But in the movie version, it is the reverse, with Dolly Parton as Truvy rattling off the recipe to Clariee, played by the late, great Olympia Dukakis, who died last year at age 89.

I interviewed Olympia in 2003 and also Dolly in 2009, and during those interviews, asked both of these iconic gals about that “line-switcheroo” as well as about the recipe. Both gave the same answer about the line, explaining writer Harling agreed to switch it up for the film version, with the thought being, it sounded funnier with Dolly’s character doing the delivery.

Dolly has even preserved her own version of the “Cupa-Cupa-Cupa” recipe which she published in her cookbook “Dolly’s Dixie Fixin’s” (2006 Penguin Group $24.95) and even credits it as Clairee’s recipe rather than Truvy’s.

“I’ve never forgotten Clairee’s recipe for this easy fruit dessert, named for the amount of ingredients that are in it, the same way a pound cake is,” Dolly said.

“The recipe makes enough for two people, but, of course, you can up the Cup-a Cup-a Cup-a to two if you want.”

While Dolly’s version lists all-purpose flour, I’m told you’ll get better and more even baking using self-rising flour. I’ve also had others recommend adding two additional “Cup-a” ingredients to this recipe for an extra pleasing result by including a cup of melted butter to baking dish first, and then mixing a cup of milk along with the cup of flour, cup of sugar and cup of fruit cocktail with liquid and then pouring the batter into the butter soaked baking pan.

And remember what the “Steel Magnolias” gals say at the beauty shop: “I like to serve it warm topped with vanilla ice cream to cut the richness.”

Columnist Philip Potempa has published four cookbooks and is the director of marketing at Theatre at the Center. He can be reached at pmpotempa@comhs.org or mail your questions: From the Farm, P.O. Box 68, San Pierre, IN 46374.

1 cup canned fruit cocktail, with liquid

1 cup flour (all-purpose or use self-rising if available)

2. Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir until thoroughly mixed.

3. Pour batter into a small baking dish and bake until golden brown on top, 20-30 minutes and serve warm.