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Lake City Playhouse stages heartbreaking, humorous ‘Steel Magnolias’

Callie Cabe and Aimee Paxton dish the dirt in “Steel Magnolia” at Lake City Playhouse in Coeur d’Alene. (Lake City Playhouse)
Callie Cabe and Aimee Paxton dish the dirt in “Steel Magnolia” at Lake City Playhouse in Coeur d’Alene. (Lake City Playhouse)

If you notice a shortage of tissues at grocery stores around Coeur d’Alene, cold and flu season might not entirely be to blame, as Lake City Playhouse is staging Robert Harling’s beloved tearjerker “Steel Magnolias.”

Not all of those tears will be from somber moments though.

“It is a heartbreaking and emotional play, but it’s just so funny,” director Tracey Vaughan said. “There’s so many moments where we’re laughing and laughing at rehearsal because it’s this bittersweet, humorous play. But we’ll definitely need those tissues as well.”

Harling based “Steel Magnolias,” which opens Friday and runs through March 4, on his family’s experience with his sister’s death from complications with diabetes.

The play premiered in 1987, and two years later, the film adaptation, featuring an all-star cast that included Sally Fields, Shirley MacLaine and Julia Roberts, was released.

“Steel Magnolias” follows the joys and sorrows of six women in northwest Louisiana over the course of several years.

Vaughan has a history with the Lake City Playhouse, having formerly served as the artistic executive director of Lake City Playhouse. She recently finished a two-year stint as the executive director of Coeur d’Alene Summer Theater.

When she was approached about directing “Steel Magnolias,” Vaughan jumped at the chance because she counts the show as one on her bucket list.

“It wasn’t really on my radar. It wasn’t in my plans at all, but when the opportunity came up, it was something I couldn’t turn down,” she said.

“Steel Magnolias” stars Callie McKinney Cabe as M’Lynn Eatenton, Wendy Carol as Clairee Belcher, Kathie Doyle-Lipe as Ouiser Boudreaux, Marta Myers as Annelle Dupuy-Desoto, Aimee Paxton as Shelby Eatenton-Latcherie and Renei Yarrow as Truvy Jones.

When casting the play, Vaughan didn’t look to recreate the film or previous productions of “Steel Magnolias.” Instead, she looked for actors who could best express the tone, relationships and emotional content of the play.

Carol and Doyle-Lipe have both played their respective roles in previous productions of “Steel Magnolias,” including a production at Lake City Playhouse about 10 years ago.

“I wasn’t sure going in if they would have a preconceived notion of how the role is played and have a set idea of things,” Vaughan said. “Both of them were really open to direction, and both of them are such seasoned veteran actresses that they know that each production is unique.”

While working with the cast, Vaughan has noticed a connection similar to that which binds the characters in “Steel Magnolias”

Many of the actors have worked together in different capacities, but Vaughan said the connection really stems not from familiarity but from their character.

“The whole cast are all really, truly, honestly gifted, talented and giving women and all of them want the production to do really well,” she said. “Everyone’s very down to earth and everyone is very much part of an ensemble, which is what you want with a piece like this and you don’t always get it so I feel very fortunate as a director.”

Vaughan hopes that audiences can approach the show without biases that might stem from the story often being classified as a “chick flick.”

“The fact that it’s about women and it’s about the strength of women, and it’s about female relationships, absolutely,” Vaughan said. “But it’s something that I think that all genders and different age groups can relate to.”


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