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Campus stages ‘The Winter’s Tale’ and ‘Steel Magnolias’

Notre Dame students are taking the stage this weekend in two different shows. The department of film, television and theatre (FTT) will be staging Robert Harling’s “Steel Magnolias” at the Decio Theatre in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, Nov. 10-13. Elsewhere on campus, the Not-So-Royal-Shakespeare Company (NSR) will be putting on “A Winter’s Tale” at the Washington Hall Lab Theater, November 10-12. 

Both plays share the label of a “tragicomedy,” which FTT professor Carys Kresny, director of the “Steel Magnolias” production, said is sure to ignite all of the audience’s emotions. She said this weekend presents a unique opportunity for a double feature for play-lovers.

“People can have a blast going to both,” Kresny said.

She also described the nature of the tragicomedy: “A friend of mine used to say that she loved a happy-sad sandwich.”

“Steel Magnolias” is ‘laughter through tears’

“Steel Magnolias” is a play about a group of women set in Louisiana in the 1980s. Kresny hinted at what the audience should expect from FTT’s production.

“There’s a line from the play, which I think sums it up,” Kresny said. “‘Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.’ It’s really, really funny, but there’s also real human experiences that are pretty tough that happened in the play … And you know what? [At first,] I was like, ‘This is a chick-flick, this is a girl play.’ But the guys who have seen it so far have just been laughing their heads off, not at the women, but with them.” 

Kresny continued by explaining other initial hesitations she had about “Steel Magnolias.”

“When I took on the production, I was a little bit skeptical of this play because it was all about women, but women’s experiences written by a guy,” Kresny said. “But it’s really amazing how authentic it is. I think the reason is because this playwright, he wrote it to honor his sister, for starters, and he wrote it directly out of his own experience — each woman is based on someone he actually knows and loves.” 

Kresny said the hard work and dedication on behalf of the cast and crew have made the production a “vivid visual treat.”

“It’s a really big tech show. There’s all kinds of fun aspects of the set. The costumes are incredibly detailed and the hair obviously does all kinds of things. So there’s a lot to look at, and that takes a lot of thought, time and organization both on the part of the designers and the actors,” Kresny said. “Everyone has had a blast working with each other, and the actors have been just a delight for me. The whole way through, they’ve really stepped up … So if you are in the mood to get your ‘80s on, we’re here for you.”

“The Winter’s Tale” is ‘one of Shakespeare’s most beautifully written plays

The Not-So-Royal Shakespeare Company cast of “The Winter’s Tale.” / Courtesy of Emily Hanson

The cast and crew of NSR’s production of “The Winter’s Tale” echo how, for their play, its “coming together” was a product of commitment and collaboration. The Shakespeare group is completely student-run, which Dominic Keene, a junior studying electrical engineering and FTT, says led community in the club.

“It has been a fair time commitment, depending on what kind of role you have,” Keene said. “But we have a lot of fun with it. And at least to me, it doesn’t feel like a time commitment. It feels like an excuse to hang out with my friends every day. And that’s part of the reason I love it … My reason for doing theater is getting to spend all those hours in the rehearsal room, getting to know people. I’ve never made bonds with people and friendships the way I’ve made friendships in a rehearsal room.”

Ryan Mantey, a junior studying philosophy, classics and FTT, agreed.

“I joined up the first semester of my freshman year and everyone was very kind and just open to receiving anyone and everyone who was interested in theater and in Shakespeare,” Mantey said.

This weekend’s production was selected both for its beauty and its application to modern audiences, said director Noah Sim, a junior studying computer science and history.

“‘The Winter’s Tale’ is one of Shakespeare’s most beautifully written plays,” Sim said. “Some of the language and the structure of his phrases are really just, well, beautiful. The story is not too intense, but still very important, I think, even for a modern audience.”

Eliza Chaney, a sophomore studying political science, international relations and economics said that Shakespeare is still important.

“A lot of people are turned away from Shakespeare because they’re like, ‘Oh, the language is really old, I won’t understand it,’” Chaney said. “But this play in particular, actually, there’s so much in there that’s really still very relevant and relatable to a modern audience. We all feel jealousy, we feel insecurity, we feel love, like all of those emotions are very human, regardless of when it was written. And I think that definitely comes through in the play … So come along, we’ve put in a lot of hours and effort, and we can’t wait to show you.”

Christina Randazzo, a senior studying psychology and FTT, describes the play as “a tragedy when you give it time.” Randazzo hints at the “scandal” and “twists and turns” that the audience can expect.

“There may be romance. There may be babies thrown into fires. There may be people mauled by bears, but you will just have to come and see for yourself,” Randazzo said. “But this play is a group of the most dedicated people that I’ve ever met and had the pleasure of knowing. I think their dedication and love for what they’re doing is really evident in what you will see.”

You can contact Kelsey Quint at kquint@nd.edu.