Actor Dorothy Stanley Comes Home to “Steel Magnolias”

by Bonnie Goldberg

While some people catch a cold or the flu with great annoyance, Dorothy Stanley caught the acting “bug” with tremendous joy when she was four years old and it is still actively in her system.  She performed “Oh, You Beautiful Doll” as part of a dance recital, as a soloist, and her fate was sealed.  Now she is busy cruising the streets of West Hartford,  her hometown, reacquainting herself with the places she grew up visiting, as she prepares for a new role, that of Clairee, the mayor’s wife, in that sentimental Southern saga “Steel Magnolias” coming to Playhouse on Park from January 10 to 28.
Stanley is “waxing nostalgic” as she revisits all the old familiar places from her youth.  Born at Hartford Hospital, she is calling it “great to be back.”  Now she lives in Vermont, and recounts happily all the plays from summer theater at the Weston Playhouse where she honed her craft. She moved around a lot due to her father’s profession with the Air National Guard, allowing her unique experiences from the Bushnell, to Pittsburgh, New Hampshire, Juilliard and Broadway.  Originally a professional violist, she soon found acting her passion and has performed in such classics as “Bye, Bye Birdie,” “Carousel,” “Sound of Music,” “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” “Dames  at Sea,” “Once” and “Billy Elliot,” to name but a few.  She credits her audition for “Kiss Me Kate,” the moment everything fell into place and her career officially took wing.
Whether she is playing one of the strippers in “Gypsy” or a happy “tapper” in “Sugar Babies,” Stanley has found joy in singing, dancing and acting on stage.  She especially likes feel good shows and this one at Playhouse on Park  definitely fills the bill. Even though it is the story of a mother and her ill daughter, there is a lot of humor to wrap around the sadness.  This  is a sisterhood of women, strong women of the South, who stand together.  As Stanley sees it, “We are all there for each other.  We feel like sisters.  We all get along and are supportive.”  Stanley credits Susan Haefner, the director, for how well the cast is performing.  “We’re having a ball.  First Susan had us discussing our feelings about each other and about diabetes, the disease that affects the every day existence  of Shelby, a main character, and how close we are at different stages in life.”  Thanks to Susan, “we all feel like family. We are working in an extremely positive, professional yet relaxed atmosphere and that’s a delightful way to work.”
“Steel Magnolias” was written three decades ago as a celebration of the life of the playwright’s sister Susan by Robert Harling.  He was having trouble coping with his younger sister’s sudden death, after receiving a kidney from their mom, and it was suggested he write about it to help heal.  In ten days, he penned this tribute to the family and friends whose love surrounded them. Harling wanted to capture his sister’s life and spirit.  He set the story in the place where he grew up, Natchitoches, Louisiana. He placed it in a beauty parlor, the private place for women where they gathered for inspiration, support and strength.  The title comes from “something beautiful, made of very strong stuff.”
For tickets ($25-40), call Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Road, West Hartford  at 860-523-5900, ext. 10, or online  Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.  There is an added performance on Tuesday, January 23 at 2 p.m.
In addition to everything else, Dorothy Stanley admits to being a Stephen Sondheim fanatic, having played 14 roles in seven of his shows over the years, like “Follies,” “Sweeney Todd” and “Gypsy.”  She even confesses, “I would perform a Sondheim musical in a barn for free.”  Since that may not happen any time soon, join Stanley’s bevy of high school friends who are coming to the Playhouse to see her shine as Clairee.
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