Two decades after Julia Roberts and Sally Field made audiences cry with their 1989 film "Steel Magnolias," the story hasn't lost its popularity.
With regional theaters anyway. Tonight, Playhouse Merced will become the third group in the area in as many years to stage a production of the 1987 play. The others were Modesto Junior College and Merced's Starlight Café Theatre.
Set in a Lousiana hair salon, Robert Harling's comic drama centers on a group of friends who help each other through life's ups and downs. One of the reasons it remains a theater favorite is because of its all-female cast.
"The talent pool in theater regardless if its community level, academic level or professional level is always far deeper with female talent and female options than it is with male," guest director Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski said.
The emotional story, which involves the death of a major character, also resonates with audiences. Based on his family's experiences, Harling wrote the play in memory of his sister for her son.
"I think it's because everyone has had to endure some sort of loss, whether it's been a death or a broken heart or whether it's been a dream that's been deferred or whatever," Elkins-Zeglarski said.
Each character deals with loss in a different way, either drawing on strength from a higher power or loved ones.
The show features Merced's Cheley Price and Sonora resident Alyson Wren as mother and daughter M'Lynn and Shelby. Elkins-Zeglarski, who is based in Denver, became involved with the production through his long friendship with the company's artistic director Lars Tatom.
He's glad that the playhouse is staging the drama in its intimate black-box theater.
"You're really able to see reaction," he said. "For me as a theater-goer, that's what's exciting, to watch another character listen or react to what another character is saying."
WHAT: 'Steel Magnolias'
WHEN: Through Feb. 25. 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays.
WHERE: Playhouse Merced's black box theater, 452 W. Main St., Merced