On stage, “Designing Women” removes the shoulder pads, not its politics
The show was not entirely progressive. Its only character of color, Anthony Bouvier (Meshach Taylor), had a subordinate role in the business, and queer characters were rare. But he gave his characters divergent attitudes, insisting that the experience of women was not uniform. In a logic of connection, the characters could have appeared as stereotypes – hardass, bimbo, pragmatist, naive – but interpreted by Carter, Delta Burke, Annie potts and Jean Smart, they had an intelligent mind and a big heart. Even as they fought, they supported each other.
This is what makes this theatrical version of “Designing Women” more than an attempt to capitalize on familiar intellectual property. As a TV show, it straddled political divisions, allowing progressive and conservative women to be glamorously portrayed. These divisions are wider now. But if these characters can still talk to each other on stage, maybe audience members can continue those conversations off the stage, with or without repartee.
Although TheaterSquared announced the show in early 2020, Bloodworth-Thomason only started writing it this year, ultimately amassing some 7,000 pages. (Those voices really weren’t quiet.) The September draft flaunted his practiced style, a rapier spirit with a dazzling grip, and included a few callbacks for devoted fans, like a riff on Julia’s “the lights went on” speech. extinct in Georgia “.
Feminism is still not particularly intersectional, although the firm now includes a black and gay co-owner, Anthony’s cousin, Cleo (Carla Renata). But the script has updated its policy. On the first line, Julia instructs Hayley (Kim Matula), the new receptionist, about temperature checks for customers. “If they refuse, kick them out,” said Julia. “If they’re wearing a MAGA hat, don’t let them in.” In the background, a voicemail is played, calling Julia a “lying socialist slut”.
Bloodworth-Thomason dreams of a tour of the South for the play and an eventual spot on Broadway. But it’s dialogue like this that explains why she and Thomason chose TheaterSquared for the essay. Washington County, which includes Fayetteville, opted for Trump in 2020, albeit by a somewhat narrow margin – 50.39% for Trump and 46.49% for Joseph R. Biden’s ticket – and the theater attracts spectators who do not all vote in the same way.
“I know not everyone who walks through the door would automatically agree with me in a conversation over a beer,” Miller told me. But the theater deliberately programs plays that spark these conversations. And the café offers 16 local beers on tap.