The Orange Community Players will present its first production of 2016, “Steel Magnolias,” beginning this week. Performances are at 7:37 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 11 – Saturday, Feb. 13, and Thursday, Feb. 18 – Saturday, Feb. 20. Matinees are at 2:37 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 14 and Sunday, Feb. 21. Pictured, from left to right, are Janet Bland, Laura Bergeaux, Emily Buesing, Tanya Guillotte, Maggie Larson and Keri Foreman. Photo by Tommy Mann Jr.

By Tommy Mann Jr. – For The Record

The most ambitious production of the current OCP season will take place this week.

The Orange Community Players presents its production of “Steel Magnolias” at 7:37 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 11 through Saturday, Feb. 13, and again Thursday, Feb. 18 through Saturday, Feb. 20. Matinees are scheduled for 2:37 p.m., Valentine’s Day, Sunday, Feb. 14, and Sunday, Feb. 21, at the Orange Community Playhouse, 708 W. Division in downtown Orange.

For the Feb. 14 showing, OCP plans a special dessert treat for the Valentine’s Day matinee with coffee, wine, and punch. Tickets for all shows are $15 for adults and $10 for students.

The latest OCP production is being directed by Diana Hill and the assistant director is Barry Foster, who is making his debut in that capacity.

The play, written by Robert Harling, is set in the fictitious town of Chinquapin Parish, La., and is a comedy-drama about a group of Southern women and the bonds they share in the face of love, tragedy and life in general. Originally written for the stage, it was later adapted to the silver screen and, in 2005, it began a run on Broadway.

According to Hill, the play is a “Southern true story of friendship and loss” as these women are witty, intelligent, and, above all, “real characters.”

“With the production, we are introducing three new talents to the stage,” Hill said. “Each of these new additions are very good and will really make an impression on the audience.”

Joining veteran OCP members Janet Bland, who plays the character M’Lynn, Keri Foreman as Truvy, and Tanya Guillotte as Clairee, are Maggie Larson, a 17-year-old senior at Hardin-Jefferson High School, Emily Buesing, a 19-year-old actress who was in the OCP production of “Bye, Bye Birdie!”, and Laura Bergeaux.

“Laura is playing the character Ouiser,” Hill added. “She’s never been on stage before, but she is just amazing. Emily has been in one production here at OCP, and she will just leave everyone amazed in the role of Shelby. And Maggie is new to OCP and she is so committed to her role of Annelle and to this production.”

The understudy for “Steel Magnolias” is Jennifer Foreman.

“A lot of people do not have understudies, but I like to have one in case someone gets sick or if something happens,” Hill said. “It takes quite a lot of responsibility in this case because she is the understudy for each role in the production. She can do so many things, so I have complete confidence in her.”

The Orange Community Players is well-known for its quality and committment to its work. While the majority of productions each season are a comedy or a musical, it is not unheard of for OCP to venture into a more serious piece of work.

“We have done others that were comedy-dramas, like this, such as ‘Dixie Swim Club,'” Hill continued. “A comedy-drama is very challenging for the actors involved because you have to know just how long to hold the audience in awe before you hit them with the comedy.”

While many people may be very familiar with the movie adaption of “Steel Magnolias,” Hill believes the audiences will enjoy the play even more.

“The original play was so much better than the movie, and the movie was really good,” Hill explained. “If you like the movie, then you will love this play. All of the action takes place in Truvy’s salon and you really have to keep up with what is going on. This is something the whole family can enjoy, and men will enjoy this as much as the women because it’s about life.”

As excited as Hill is about the upcoming shows, she has some mixed feelings about it as well. In 1991, Hill portrayed the character of Truvy in the Orange Community Players presentation at that time, which was under the direction of the beloved Jeff Hatman.

“This brings back a lot of memories for me,” Hill admitted. “I just loved Jeff, like everyone did. She was so great and really was such a great friend.”

Hill said the cast and production team is excited and cannot wait for the public to see what they have collectively worked so hard to create.

“We are ready to roll,” Hill said. “We had rehearsal before the Super Bowl on Sunday, and everyone is ready. We can’t wait for opening night.”

Call 409-882-9137 for reservations and leave your name, contact information and number of tickets needed, or visit www.orangecommunityplayers.com for more information.