Sheri Herren, 50, says it’s been a “healing process” for her and her daughter Laura Herren, 23, to play mother and child onstage in “Steel Magnolias.” Keegan Theatre is doing Robert Harling’s 1987 tragicomedy at Church Street Theatre through Aug. 21.
Set among a group of women friends in a small-town Louisiana beauty salon in the 1980s, the play has much humor but is ultimately about M’Lynn (Sheri Herren) losing her strong-minded daughter, Shelby (Laura Herren), after the newlywed disregards doctor’s orders about her delicate health and becomes pregnant.
In early May, Sheri, her sister Charlene Hill, and their mother, Jean Nash Stanley, took a trip to Bermuda. Stanley, 73, fell from a golf cart and died of head injuries. Keegan Theatre is dedicating “Steel Magnolias” to Stanley, who saw all her daughter’s and granddaughter’s shows dating back to their high school days. She had planned to hire a limo to carry her in style to “Steel Magnolias.”
Sheri Herren, a founding member of Keegan, has played more than her share of stage moms with the company. Her character M’Lynn has a grief-laden speech late in the play. In rehearsals, recalls the actress, it was “very difficult to do that last scene, even reading it. I couldn’t get through it. But it got better and better. . . . The lesson of the whole play is that life goes on, and it’s been a good lesson for me. Because that was the hardest part . . . because everything changes when your mom dies.”
Laura Herren remembers being a child and hanging out at Keegan rehearsals in the basement of the Mount Olivet United Methodist Church in Arlington, and occasionally appearing in their shows. After high school, she spent a year studying theater at the prestigious Bristol Old Vic in England. But when she came home, Laura got her bachelor’s degree in biology and now plans to go into research.
It wasn’t just the lure of the laboratory that took her away from the stage. It was watching her mother and other actors work. “She has the unique ability to pull from her soul and lose herself in her character,” says Laura of her mother. “I think that was one of the reasons I stopped acting, because I saw how good other people were at it, and how passionate they were about it, and I could never get to that point.”
Mother and daughter will share the stage for a few weeks, anyway. And Laura says some of M’Lynn’s comic nagging of Shelby early in the play definitely rings a personal bell.
“There are several lines that she [Sheri] has during the show, when I heard the tone it rang true in my ear, and it built up this anxiety in me, because I recognized it. I was just like, oh, Mom !”
Michael J. Bobbitt had always planned to add an international element to Adventure Theatre — perhaps bringing in a company from overseas, or touring one of Adventure’s shows. He hadn’t really pursued the idea until he received a surprising e-mail last December from the Singapore Repertory Theatre asking about “Just a Dream: The Green Play.” The piece is a 45-minute environmental-awareness play that the theater for young audiences, based in Glen Echo Park in Maryland, toured to some 50 schools last spring.
The upshot is that Adventure Theatre’s production leaves Wednesday for an Aug. 4-Sept. 25 tour to Singapore and neighboring Kuala Lumpur, capital of Malaysia. Bobbitt, who is staging the remount, says Singapore Repertory Theatre is flying him, actors Josh Sticklin, Ayanna Hardy and Alex Vernon, and stage manager Ryan Maxwell over, covering their salaries and housing them while they do the show. The Singapore theater will also build a set per Adventure Theatre’s specs.
It’s not a prop-heavy play, so Bobbitt will pack up props in extra suitcases, hoping the Customs folks don’t balk at a couple of foam-rubber axes, needed for a tree-cutting scene.
Bobbitt says he was dumbfounded to be on the Singapore Repertory Theatre’s radar, though he had put the word out more than a year ago via the Internet that his company was premiering an adaptation of Chris Van Allsburg’s 1990 book, “Just a Dream,” scripted by Bethesda lawyer Sandra Eskin. It’s about a little boy who’s a litterbug, and who learns to care about the environment in a dream.
Adventure Theatre’s 2011-12 season in Glen Echo Park will include a world-premiere holiday play by the Washington-based, Broadway-seasoned playwright Ken Ludwig (“Lend Me a Tenor”).
The company’s full season:
●“Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse” (Sept. 23-Oct. 31), based on the book by Kevin Henkes, adapted by Kevin Kling. Nick Olcott will direct and Felicia Curry will star.
●“ ’Twas the Night Before Christmas” (Nov. 18-Jan. 2), by Ken Ludwig, about a mouse, an elf, a little girl and a house that Santa missed. Jerry Whiddon will direct.
●“The Snowy Day” (Jan. 20-Feb. 13) is a world-premiere musical, based on the book by Ezra Jack Keats, with a script by David Emerson Toney and music and lyrics by Darius Smith. Jessica Burgess will direct.
●“Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” (March 2-April 9) is a musical with script and lyrics by Judith Viorst, based on her book, with music by Shelly Markham. Gail Humphries Mardirosian will direct.
●“Just a Dream: The Green Play” will tour area schools again, April 10-May 11.
●“Five Little Monkeys” (April 27-June 3) is another world premiere, adapted by Ernie Nolan from the books by Eileen Christelow. Karin Abromaitis will direct.
●“If You Give a Moose a Muffin” (June 22-Sept. 2, 2012) is adapted by Steve Garfinkel from another book in the series by Laura Numeroff. Michael Russotto will star, directed by Jeremy Skidmore.
●“Big, the Musical” (July 13-Aug. 5) will mark a collaboration between Adventure Theatre and the Musical Theater Center school in Rockville. At the Round House Theatre in Bethesda. (www.adventuretheatre.org).
●Studio Theatre will hold its annual garage sale featuring items from each show of the past season on Saturday, Aug. 6, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at its 14th and P streets NW location.
For more theater and dance reivews reviews, visit http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/theater-dance.
Horwitz is a freelance writer.