Women of steel

‘Steel Magnolias’ takes the stage in Jerusalem.

THE CAST of ‘Steel Magnolias.’ (photo credit: Courtesy)
THE CAST of ‘Steel Magnolias.’
(photo credit: Courtesy)
J-Town Playhouse brings yet another classic theater production to the
Jerusalem stage, Steel Magnolias, written in 1987 and made famous by Herbert Ross’s 1989 film adaptation.
Director Shiri Berzack sat down with The Jerusalem Post to discuss hair salons, one-liners, and the joys of casting a play without men.
Can you give a little background on Steel Magnolias for those who are not familiar with it?
It was originally a play written by Robert Harling, set in the 1980s. It’s a beautiful story about six women, their friendships, their lives, the struggles they go through, and most importantly, how they help each other through their struggles. It was eventually turned into a movie with a stellar cast, including Julia Roberts and Dolly Parton. The play gives you a beautiful sense of these women, their friendships and journeys. It’s set inside a hair salon, which is quite a cool thing. That scene is such a women’s venue; men don’t typically spend time in the hair salon. It takes place in the 1980s, when the woman’s place was still in the home more than at work. It’s really nice to have something focused on these women.
With the 1980s hairstyles and the feathering, I imagine they spent quite a lot of time in the hair salon.
Exactly – these women have a standing Saturday appointment.
What was the impetus to bring this particular play to the Jerusalem stage?
J-Town Playhouse Productions wanted to have a play that was a comedy. When they approached me, they gave me six plays that they had been looking at and I read the synopses for all of them. They all sounded nice, but when I started reading Steel Magnolias, I really felt a connection to the fact that it’s a comedy and has some of the greatest one-liners of all time, but also there is a deeper underlying story. The women behind the comedy really drive the story’ their lives and their friendship. There are a lot of moving moments. The tagline is “The funniest play ever to make you cry.” That’s so apt. I just really felt that this was the perfect way to bring a comedy to the stage that also had meaning behind it.
What has the process been like for you as a director to find the cast and run rehearsals?
It’s a new process for me. It’s much more intense than I had imagined, but I think the biggest part for me was getting a very solid cast. When I put out the casting call, I made sure that it was spread far and wide because I wanted a strong cast of people who knew what they were doing and who I could really see in the roles. My aim was to find people who needed as little direction as possible. I was very lucky that I found that. Typically, in Jerusalem English-language theater, it’s not as easy to find men, so maybe having an all-female cast helped make the casting process a little but smoother. But I believe I got lucky with the people who came to audition. I’m very happy with the six women I managed to get on my team. As far as scheduling rehearsals, it’s a lot of time and energy, but luckily I really love it. It might be hard for me to get up and go to the rehearsal, but once I’m there, I’m totally in it. It’s a bonding experience putting a play together. Our youngest actress is 17 and our oldest one is in the older stages of life, I wouldn’t want to say her exact age. It’s a really nice, solid group that makes the rehearsals fun and enjoyable. When I say something, they get it and we can move on.
It’s so important as a director to have that. So there are no male characters at all?
No, there is a voice-over that’s male, but that’s it. We got the producer’s husband to record that for us. There are a lot of male characters that the women talk about that we just don’t meet: husbands, sons, nephews, brothers, and friends. In the first scene, one of the women says after talking about a man in her life, “Oh he we would never come into the salon, it’s women’s territory.” So that sets the tone. It’s a poignant sentence: this is our place, our territory. This is where these women get to be fully themselves. Everywhere else in their lives, they have to be the perfect role models, have the perfect houses and look perfect. In the salon, they can relax.
It seems like being pampered is also important for these women – something they need and deserve.
Yes definitely. The hairdresser mentions a few times during the play that she is shocked and offended if any of them do their own hair. It’s just a great line.
Do you have a favorite scene or moment?
I can tell you one of my favorite lines. Clari is an older women whose best friend is Weeza, who is somewhat of a curmudgeon, always moaning and complaining, but you know that she has a good heart underneath it all. Clari says to her, “You’re almost chipper today. Did you run over a small child or something?” It’s just really funny and it breaks down a bit of tension in the scene.
What do you hope that the audience will take away after watching Steel Magnolias?
I hope, firstly, that they’ll have an enjoyable evening and that they spent a great two hours having fun. Also, I hope that they’ll learn something. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but this play deals a lot with what people go through in life. It shows how everyone is going through their own struggles in life. We have to be mindful that this is true for everyone and that we shouldn’t compare ourselves to other people – and we also shouldn’t judge because we never know the backstory.
Performances will be held through March 28. Buy tickets at: www.facebook.com/events/207038796918030/