31 Days of Arkansas Rep: 1988’s STEEL MAGNOLIAS

The final Arkansas Rep production in its original home was Robert Harling’s STEEL MAGNOLIAS.  Demand for tickets was so strong that the run was extended by over a week even before the show opened. (Having the next show opening in the new space probably allowed for this extension to be possible because there was not a concern about an overlap of space needs.)

This tale of six Southern women of varying ages featured Victoria Holloway and Casey Alexander as a mother and daughter, Theresa Quick and Francine Thomas as the owner of a beauty salon and her employee, with Francis Kemp and Candyce Hinkle as a pair of lifelong friends rounding out the cast.

Selected by Cliff Fannin Baker, the show was still running Off Broadway and had not yet been made into a movie when it was announced for the Rep’s season.  The show was directed by Cathey Crowell Sawyer.  The creative team included Mike Nichols (set), Mark Hughes (costumes), Robert A. Jones (lighting) and Sheri Bethel (sound).

Nichols and Hinkle would reunite with this title when the Rep mounted it to kick off the 30th season in 2005.

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31 Days of Arkansas Rep: 1986’s ‘NIGHT, MOTHER

An Oscar winner performing on the Arkansas Rep stage is a rarity. To have one playing the same role she played in a national tour — well, that has only happened once.

From April 17 to May 4, 1986, Mercedes McCambridge starred in the Rep’s production of Marsha Norman’s two-hander ‘night, Mother. In 1984, she headlined the national tour of this same production.

McCambridge and Rep founder/Artistic Director Cliff Fannin Baker had been discussing potential project ideas for a few years.  In the mid-1980s, she lived in Little Rock. Though by 1986 she had moved away, she was glad to return for this project.

The show was directed by Baker and co-starred Cathey Crowell Sawyer.  In his Gazette review Jack Weatherly noted that it was Sawyer’s finest performance to date. Of McCambridge he opined she was “lighting up those recesses of our lives with humor and humanity.”

31 Days of Arkansas Rep: 1985’s CRIMES OF THE HEART

Since at least Chekov, playwrights have been fascinated with a trio of women at the center of a play.  Southerner Beth Henley put her own twist on this concept with her 1981 Pulitzer Prize winner Crimes of the Heart.

Focusing on the three Magrath sisters and their assorted friends in Hazelhurst, Mississippi, the story looks at how they come together because one of the sisters is accused of shooting her estranged husband.  A comedy with some dark undertones, it was a hit Off Broadway and then transferred to Broadway after winning the Pulitzer.

Arkansas Rep presented it in April 1985.  The cast featured Evelyn Carol Case, Cathey Crowell Sawyer and Laurel Anne White as the three sisters.  Maggie Murphy, Jeff Bailey and Mark Johnson rounded out the cast.  The show was directed by Cliff Baker, who had  directed the same show (with a different cast and design team) at the Alley Theatre earlier in 1985.

Pulitzers Play Little Rock: CRIMES OF THE HEART at Arkansas Rep

Crimes of HeartSince at least Chekov, playwrights have been fascinated with a trio of women at the center of a play.  Southerner Beth Henley put her own twist on this concept with her 1981 Pulitzer Prize winner Crimes of the Heart.

Focusing on the three Magrath sisters and their assorted friends in Hazelhurst, Mississippi, the story looks at how they come together because one of the sisters is accused of shooting her estranged husband.  A comedy with some dark undertones, it was a hit Off Broadway and then transferred to Broadway after winning the Pulitzer.

Arkansas Rep presented it in April 1985.  The cast featured Evelyn Carol Case, Cathey Crowell Sawyer and Laurel Anne White as the three sisters.  Maggie Murphy, Jeff Bailey and Mark Johnson rounded out the cast.  The show was directed by Cliff Baker, who had  directed the same show (with a different cast and design team) at the Alley Theatre earlier in 1985.

2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the first Pulitzer Prize for Drama being given. To pay tribute to 100 years of the Pulitzer for Drama, each day this month a different Little Rock production of a Pulitzer Prize winning play will be highlighted.  Many of these titles have been produced numerous times.  This look will veer from high school to national tours in an attempt to give a glimpse into Little Rock’s breadth and depth of theatrical history.

Pulitzers Play Little Rock: ‘NIGHT, MOTHER on Arkansas Rep stage with Oscar winner Mercedes McCambridge

MercedesIt is not often that an Oscar winner has appeared in a play on a Little Rock stage.  But in the spring of 1986, Mercedes McCambridge starred in Marsha Norman’s ‘night, Mother at Arkansas Repertory Theatre.

She had moved to Little Rock a few years prior to live full time to be close to family. From time to time, she and Cliff Baker (the Rep’s founder) would have conversations about potential projects. But it was not until 1986, that the stars aligned.  By this point, she had moved away from Little Rock, but was still back from time to time to visit family.  (In an interview with the Arkansas Gazette, she also praised Fred Poe and noted that he was her travel agent for her many excursions.)

Appearing on stage with McCambridge in Norman’s two-hander was Rep veteran Cathey Crowell Sawyer.

Though noted for her film work, McCambridge had appeared on Broadway several times including opposite Little Rock native Ben Piazza in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and receiving a Tony nomination for her work in the play The Love Suicide at Schofield Barracks.

Prior to appearing at the Rep, she had recently toured in the play Agnes of God.  She related to the Gazette that she had been approached to do that play prior to Broadway but did not feel the character she was to play was believable.  When the national tour came about, a conversation with playwright John Pielmeier changed her mind.

Her last Broadway appearance was in Neil Simon’s Pulitzer Prize winning Lost in Yonkers.

2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the first Pulitzer Prize for Drama being given. To pay tribute to 100 years of the Pulitzer for Drama, each day this month a different Little Rock production of a Pulitzer Prize winning play will be highlighted.  Many of these titles have been produced numerous times.  This look will veer from high school to national tours in an attempt to give a glimpse into Little Rock’s breadth and depth of theatrical history.

Pulitzers Play Little Rock: Talley’s Folly

TalleyLanford Wilson’s two person play Talley’s Folly has one of the smallest casts of a Pulitzer Prize winning play.  It is a prequel to Wilson’s Fifth of July giving a backstory that is only touched upon the earlier play.

In January 1985, the Arkansas Rep staged this seemingly simple play in Little Rock.  A quiet, romantic story, it reveals much in the layered story and nuanced characters.  Directed by Rep favorite Terry Sneed, the two-hander starred Ronald J. Aulgur and Cathey Crowell Sawyer.  The former was a frequent actor in Rep productions.  The latter was making her Rep acting debut, though she was on the Rep staff as Associate Director.

In his Arkansas Gazette review, Bill Lewis singled out Mike Nichols for his set (Nichols is still designing and building sets for the Rep in 2018) and James Hunter for his lighting.

2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the first Pulitzer Prize for Drama being given. To pay tribute to 100 years of the Pulitzer for Drama, each day this month a different Little Rock production of a Pulitzer Prize winning play will be highlighted.  Many of these titles have been produced numerous times.  This look will veer from high school to national tours in an attempt to give a glimpse into Little Rock’s breadth and depth of theatrical history.