'Steel Magnolias' forges friendships on, off stage

Fort Gordon Dinner Theatre show opens July 18



It’s a story Katie Duke can’t get enough of, and when she heard Fort Gordon Dinner Theatre was staging Steel Magnolias, she jumped at the chance to be part of the play.

“I’ve done plays with Aiken Community Playhouse, and I did Steel Magnolias with them about six years ago. I was Annelle,” said Duke, who plays the role of Shelby this time around.

Set in a Louisiana beauty shop, Steel Magnolias is a story about the lives, loves and losses of six women. At its heart are the friendships that have been forged.

It was made into a film starring Julia Roberts and Sally Field, but there are differences in the two portrayals of the story.

Directing this show is Betty Walpert, the wife of Fort Gordon Dinner Theatre coordinator Steve Walpert, who teaches drama at John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School and has performed in numerous shows at Fort Gordon.

“It is a dream play for women,” Betty Walpert said. “I’ve always wanted to be in the show, but it never worked out.”

But she’s having fun directing this cast of women. Since their friendships are such a strong part of the story, Walpert has worked to create bonds between the women, some of whom had never met each other or even been at a show at Fort Gordon before auditions a few weeks ago.

“We’ve done a lot of improvisation exercises and made up back stories for the characters and their relationships so they could have a sense of their pasts,” she said.

It seems to be working. Both Walpert and Duke said they feel the chemistry among the cast members who’ve laughed and cried together over the script.

While there’s an all-female cast and a female director, Walpert said that doesn’t have to exclude men from being part of the audience.

“It goes beyond being a chick-flick. There’s a really great story behind it. There are so many moments of fun,” she said.

Steel Magnolias will be staged July 18-19, 25-26 and 31 and Aug. 1-2. Dinner featuring Southern fare will begin at 7 p.m. followed by the show at 8 p.m. For reservations, call (706) 793-8552 or visit fortgordon.com.