Adapted for the stage, the TV series “Designing Women” still features comedies and social commentary


TheatreSquared’s latest production has a pretty amazing pedigree: the company repurposed the iconic “Designing Women” television show for the stage, which debuted in 1986 and won 18 Emmy nominations over its seven years of service. ‘existence. Original creators Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and Harry Thomason are on hand, with Bloodworth-Thomason writing the screenplay and Thomason directing (and co-founder and associate theaters artistic director Amy Herzberg co-directing).

“We couldn’t be more thrilled than to collaborate with this legendary Hollywood team, Linda and Harry, in helping them direct their latest creation – and right here in Arkansas, where they have deep roots,” said the artistic director. Robert Ford. . “And what a pleasure it is to create a witty comedy that is full of precise observations on the current scene.”

The first episode of the series introduced four indomitable women to the world: Julia and Suzanne Sugarbaker, partners at an Atlanta design firm; Charlene Frazier, chief of staff of the cabinet; and Mary Jo Shively, its chief designer. Immediately, the show asserts itself as one that will make social commentary the beating heart of its comedy. Towards the end of the first episode, Julia unleashes a fiery lick at a man in a restaurant who tries to interrupt the women’s conversation with a gooey pickup line: “There’s no need for introductions, Ray Don, we know who you are, ”is the quote that begins her speech, actress Dixie Carter’s rage barely simmering below the surface. Julia’s eloquent and passionate rants – as well as the rest of Bloodworth-Thomason’s swift, zinger-ridden dialogue – would become a signature of the series as it tackled important social issues of the 1980s and early 1990s such as the AIDS discrimination, LGBTQ rights, misogyny and sexual harassment.

[RELATED: Sarah Colonna, Arkansan who hit big time, returns to join TheatreSquared production]

“It is a great joy for TheatreSquared to continue its legacy of developing new work with this iconic premiere by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason,” said Dexter Singleton, Director of New Play Development. “This one is particularly exciting because for the first time it gives us the opportunity to direct a well-known TV show, satisfying old fans while creating new ones.” (Special for the Democrat-Gazette / Wesley Hitt for TheatreSquared)


The new Bloodworth-Thomason script carries that legacy into the 21st century as audiences learn what the women of Sugarbakers think about the social issues of the day.

“What I really wanted to do was take these women as we last saw them and pose them now,” Bloodworth-Thomason told The New York Times during the show’s announcement. “They will have the same story, will be the same people, will have the same attitudes, the same philosophies, but they will be talking about #MeToo and the Kardashians and Donald Trump and everything that is going on right now.”

“‘Designing Women’ was written and created by a woman, and I don’t think a lot of people pay tribute to her – they maybe recognize it, but they don’t really give her credit for being one of the pioneers in this regard. “, explains actress Carla Renata, who plays Cleo, newly introduced in the script of the play as the cousin of Anthony Bouvier, an original character in the television series. Renata was last seen on Broadway as Gary Coleman in “Avenue Q” and has worked nationally on “Smokey Joe’s Cafe”, 19 / sugarbakers-redesigned / “The Who’s Tommy”, https: // “The Lion King” and “We Will Rock You”. Currently, she is the creator and host of a popular podcast called “The Curvy Critic with Carla Renata”. Son Cleo is a straightforward, funny truth teller who isn’t afraid to speak to elephants who might be hiding in the room.

“I have the impression that Cleo’s sensitivity and his personality is to continue [her cousin, Anthony’s] lineage within the confines of this world, ”says Renata. “Cleo is gay. She is married, she has a child, she represents what society is today. Back then they were speaking out against homosexuals, they thought you could get AIDS by touching people – it was a very different world then. Now we live in a world where we see same sex couples, we see same sex marriages, we see the LGBTQ community fighting for their rights, like everyone else has fought for their rights – women, blacks, indigenous peoples. She is a symbol of the social revolution that has taken place since the show premiered on television. “

Southern native Elaine Hendrix, best known for roles like Alexis Carrington in the recent reboot of

Southern native Elaine Hendrix, known for roles like Alexis Carrington in the recent “Dynasty” reboot and Meredith Blake in “The Parent Trap”, discusses a script change during rehearsal for her portrayal of Charlene in the premiere. by TheatreSquared from “Designing Women”. (Special for the Democrat-Gazette / Wesley Hitt for TheatreSquared)


Watching the original show made an impact on her as a young woman, Renata says.

“I think Linda Bloodworth-Thomason’s handwriting is very crisp, very brutal – she has a definite female voice. And I enjoyed that, even when I was young. I enjoyed watching that. And j I enjoyed hearing these actors churn out those long monologues which, in the end, had this very powerful message at the end. “

Sarah Colonna is a University of Arkansas graduate who cut her teeth in Hollywood as a stand-up comedian and went on to appear on the “Chelsea Lately” panel, appeared on “Insatiable” TV shows. “and” Shameless “and wrote two best-selling memoirs. She says the original show impressed her as well.

“They were showing clips from last night at this [Designing Women Drag Dinner, a collaboration between Northwest Arkansas Equality, TheatreSquared and the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas,] Julia’s speech on AIDS, berating a woman for [being homophobic], and, oh my God, everyone in the room was crying, “said Colonna.” There is so much credit to Linda and Harry for being the first to talk about certain things on TV. “

Renata and Colonna are joined on stage by a roster of actors with equally impressive resumes – but more importantly, TheatreSquared and Thomason have chosen actors who embody the spirit of these beloved characters without resorting to imitation or to caricature. Carmen Cusack, a musical theater legend, easily finds the ironic impertinence of Julia Sugarbaker (Katherine LaNasa will reprise the role for the second half of the race); Amy Pietz, a veteran of TV comedies like “Caroline in the City” and “Modern Family,” delivers Suzanne’s tangy – usually misguided – commentary with egocentric, wide-eyed precision; Southern native Elaine Hendrix – who, in roles like Alexis Carrington in the recent ‘Dynasty’ reboot and Meredith Blake in ‘The Parent Trap’, has no trouble showing her steel side – exudes warmth and humor in his portrayal of Charlene; and Colonna nails Mary Jo’s delicate combination of witty sarcasm and empathy.

In addition to Cleo, a second new Sugarbakers employee is added to the mix – TV and film actress Kim Matula (credits include “Fighting With My Family,” / oct / 19 / sugarbakers-redesigned / “UnREAL” and “The Bold and the Beautiful”) is delightfully naive as Charlene’s younger sister, Haley, comically dismayed at some of the talking points in the office. R. Ward Duffy (“Blindspot,” “Madame Secretary”) plays a potential love interest in Julia and Matthew Floyd Miller (“Call of the Wild, “” Not About Nightingales “) plays Suzanne’s crazy Trump ex-husband.

Colonna says the process of translating these popular characters from the TV screen to the stage has been daunting at times.

“I want to do her justice, I want to do Annie Potts justice, but I don’t want to imitate her,” she said. “It’s a tricky line – I don’t want to emulate an actress playing a role, I want to pay tribute to what she brought to the role. I think that’s a big part that everyone feels responsible for – make sure you don’t see those characters and say, “No, that doesn’t or doesn’t match.” You want people to believe we’re playing these iconic characters that have been around for so long. “

Given the popularity of the original series, it’s a safe bet that many people will flock to this production, eager to see the characters they so fondly remember ring out on the current state of the world. The good news is that the special magic of the original show is present – the incisive social commentary, the quick and fun banter, and the likable actors who cheer you on every step of the way.

Ultimately, Haley can just speak for the audience of “Designing Women” when she says, “I love the way you talk! And you have such colorful personalities. This is going to be fun.”

The DVD cover of the first season of

The DVD cover of the first season of “Designing Women” shows Annie Potts, Delta Burke, Dixie Carter and Jean Smart, as well as Little Rock’s Villa Marre, 1321 Scott St. The house was pictured in the opening credits of the TV show. like the home of the Sugarbakers. It was built in 1881 by Italian descendants Angelo and Jennie Marre. (Democrat-Gazette file photo)

“Conceive women”

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday; 2 p.m. from Saturday to Sunday, until October 24

Virtual: Broadcast until October 24, 2021

Or: TheatreSquared, 477 W. Spring St. in Fayetteville

Admission: $ 10 to $ 58

Information, tickets: (479) 777-7477;

After closing in Fayetteville, the production moves to the Arkansas Repertory Theater in Little Rock for performances January 18 through February. 6.

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