‘Steel Magnolias’ cathartic for mourning mother and daughter stars
by Jane Horwitz
Sheri Herren says it’s been a “healing process” for her and her daughter Laura to play mother and child onstage in “Steel Magnolias.”
Set among a group of women friends in a small-town Louisiana beauty salon in the 1980s, the play has much humor but is ultimately about M’Lynn (Sheri Herren) losing her strong-minded daughter, Shelby (Laura Herren), after the newlywed disregards doctor’s orders about her delicate health and becomes pregnant.
In early May, Sheri, her sister Charlene Hill, and their mother, Jean Nash Stanley, took a trip to Bermuda. Stanley, 73, fell from a golf cart and died of head injuries. Keegan Theatre is dedicating “Steel Magnolias” to Stanley, who saw all her daughter’s and granddaughter’s shows dating back to their high school days. She had planned to hire a limo to carry her in style to “Steel Magnolias.”
Sheri Herren, a founding member of Keegan, has played more than her share of stage moms with the company. Her character M’Lynn has a grief-laden speech late in the play. In rehearsals, recalls the actress, it was “very difficult to do that last scene, even reading it. I couldn’t get through it. But it got better and better. .?.?. The lesson of the whole play is that life goes on, and it’s been a good lesson for me. Because that was the hardest part .?.?. because everything changes when your mom dies.”
Laura Herren remembers being a child and hanging out at Keegan rehearsals in the basement of the Mount Olivet United Methodist Church in Arlington, and occasionally appearing in their shows. After high school, she spent a year studying theater at the prestigious Bristol Old Vic in England. But when she came home, Laura got her bachelor’s degree in biology and now plans to go into research.
It wasn’t just the lure of the laboratory that took her away from the stage. It was watching her mother and other actors work. “She has the unique ability to pull from her soul and lose herself in her character,” says Laura of her mother. “I think that was one of the reasons I stopped acting, because I saw how good other people were at it, and how passionate they were about it, and I could never get to that point.”
Mother and daughter will share the stage for a few weeks, anyway. And Laura says some of M’Lynn’s comic nagging of Shelby early in the play definitely rings a personal bell.
“There are several lines that she [Sheri] has during the show, when I heard the tone it rang true in my ear, and it built up this anxiety in me, because I recognized it. I was just like, oh, Mom !”