Entertainment, Feature

Local talent taking the lead in Drama Group’s ‘Steel Magnolias’

Two professionals from Homewood and a novice from Flossmoor have major roles in the Drama Group’s presentation of “Steel Magnolias” opening Friday, Feb. 17.

Director Suzanne Ashlock of Homewood will be working with Betty Wigell of Homewood and Laila London of Flossmoor, two talented lead actresses. In addition, Ashlock got a crew led by all women together for the shows. 

Salon owner Truvvy, seated, played by Betty Wiggle of Homewood, discusses a hairstyle with her apprentice, Annelle, played by Laila London of Flossmoor, in the Drama Group production of "Steel Magnolias." (Provided photo)
Salon owner Truvvy, left, played by Betty Wigell of Homewood, discusses a hairstyle with her apprentice, Annelle, played by Laila London of Flossmoor, in the Drama Group production of “Steel Magnolias.” (Provided photo)

“Steel Magnolias” centers around Truvvy’s Salon, where wealthy women meet up on Saturdays. The play, set in 1985 in a town near New Orleans, gives a glimpse of the lives of six women over a two-year period. 

“There’s a lot of laughter. There’s a lot of one-liners. Great characters, but there are tears as well,” Ashlock said. 

The retired drama teacher and her husband, Jeff, have been volunteers at Drama Group for about the past six years. This is the second play she’s directed. Ashlock wants the audience to see how the six women “hold each other up. They look after each other. They enjoy life, they tease each other but there’s a very, very strong bond,” she said. 

The director also wants the audience to share a message drawn from the play. One character suffers the effects of Type 1 diabetes. Ashlock said a display in the lobby will explain what diabetic treatments were available in 1985 and how research has helped make great strides in managing diabetes today. The display was organized by Franciscan Health.

Wigell, who earned a bachelor’s degree in theater from UCLA, draws on her professional acting experiences in Los Angeles and Chicago for the role of beauty salon owner Truvvy who, despite her zingers and infamous one-liners, proves to be a vulnerable character. 

“It’s been a challenge to tap into that,” Wigell said. The audience will come away with “she made me laugh, but I think you’re selling the character and the play short if you just hit that one note. She’s more complicated than you read her on the surface level.”

When Wigell first moved back from LA about 10 years ago, she did several plays with Drama Group. Then she moved to downtown Chicago and got involved in the theater scene there. About 18 months ago, she moved to Homewood and decided to check out the Drama Group website to see what was on the line-up. She auditioned for “Steel Magnolias” and was excited to get the role of Truvvy. She’d not acted in this play before.

Wigell was anxious to get back on stage. Theater is her creative outlet. By day she uses her master’s degree in social work to serve as a therapist and counselor at a residential rehabilitation center for substance abuse.

London, a 2020 graduate of Homewood-Flossmoor High School, hasn’t acted before. As an H-F student, she played sports and was in the H-F Vikings Band. Now a student at Purdue University-Northwest in Hammond, Indiana, London is enrolled in a theater class. She thought the time was right to try out for a role in community theater. 

Her professor suggested she watch the movie version of “Steel Magnolias” before she auditioned. She passed on the Dolly Parton version and instead watched a Queen Latifah adaptation. Of course, the movie has extra characters and various locations, while the play focuses strictly on the six women at the salon.

Taking on the role of the apprentice to Truvvy at her salon has been challenging, but London, the youngest cast member, said she’s gotten lots of support from those around her. 

“It’s been honestly great having a cast with such knowledge. They’re so experienced, so they’ve helped me with the role. It’s been a little hard because Annelle (her character) changes in every single scene. I think I’m doing a pretty decent job.”

London may continue in community theater, but her passion is animals. Her goal is to be a certified wildlife rehabilitator. She also will study animal behavior with hopes of working at a zoo.

“Steel Magnolias” performances are at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Feb. 17 and 18, and again at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Feb. 23, 24 and 25. The 2 p.m. Sunday matinees are Feb. 19 and 26.

The Drama Group theater is at 330 W. 202nd Street in Chicago Heights. Tickets are $23 and can be ordered at  the BookTix website dg.booktix.com, where you will be directed to set up an account with “The Drama Group-BookTix Box Office.” Or call the Drama Group box office at 708-755-3444.

Wearing a mask is no longer required, but the Drama Group encourages people to wear masks while in the building. 

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