George Rich, 19-year Yosemite High School and Oakhurst Community College math teacher, first stepped out of the classroom and onto the Golden Chain Theatre stage just a year ago, playing the enigmatic Judas/John the Baptist in “Godspell.”
“My wife was in ‘Godspell’ and they needed someone to play the Judas/John the Baptist role, which is usually played by the same actor, so I jumped in and loved every minute of it,” Rich said.
He loved it so much he jumped in again, playing the often drunk and abusive Stach in “The Wardrobe,” as the larger than life Spaniard Manolo Costazuela in “The Odd Couple, Female Version” - and yet again as the jolly, but scorned Lazarwolf in “Fiddler on the Roof.”
The talented Rich then played drums in the band for a recent production of the musical “Shake,” which he collaborated on with James Mierkey and Jennifer Piccolotti.
Friday night, after acting in four productions in the past year, Rich, who was raised in Thousand Oaks, makes his directorial debut with the opening of “Steel Magnolias.”
Steel Magnolias, set in a beauty shop in Louisiana, was made famous by the 1989 movie starring Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine, Sally Field, Julia Roberts, and Daryl Hannah.
Truvy Jones runs a successful beauty salon where all the ladies in the neighborhood have a standing Saturday appointment. Along with her anxious and eager assistant, Annelle, Truvy styles the hair of many of the women about town: wealthy widow and former first lady of Chinquapin, Clairee Belcher, local curmudgeon Ouiser Boudreaux, intelligent and compassionate career woman M’Lynn, and her daughter Shelby, the prettiest girl in town.
Shelby’s engagement is the talk of the town, but the joy and excitement of her wedding quickly turn to concern as she faces a risky pregnancy and a myriad of health complications.
Eventually, when Shelby dies from complications related to her diabetes, M’Lynn has to deal with the most difficult of life’s challenges: the loss of one’s only child. As the women of Chinquapin make their ways over life’s many hurdles together, they find comfort in one another.
The Golden Chain cast includes Melinda Rich (Truvy), Sarah Persson (Ouiser), Jennifer Varner (Clairee), Julie Riley (M’Lynn), Miranda Simonich (Annellle), and Lyric Piccolotti (Shelby).
“Preparing for this show and directing it has been an epic undertaking,” Rich said. “Each character in this story is so well known and loved, that it can be quite intimidating.”
Rich initially started acting at the Golden Chain because his wife, Melinda, was doing shows there.
“I wanted to spend more time with her, and also my brother-in-law James Mierkey and I have been friends since we were teenagers - we were friends before I fell in love with his sister,” Rich said. “So joining the theater gave me the opportunity to be around him as well as Jennifer Piccolotti, whom I’ve also grown quite close to over the past two years.”
Rich said his directorial style is similar to his teaching style.
“I believe that directing is a partnership between myself and the cast for the mutual purpose of creating an excellent show,” Rich said. “I value my cast’s input greatly and I believe it is this collaboration that will make this an amazing show.”
Melinda Rich, as Truvy, first thought her role was going to be easy as it is one of the “most quoted” movies in her family.
“What I was not prepared for, however, is the emotional depths and heights we as a cast must reach towards in order to honor this amazing story of love, loss and friendship,” Melinda said. “Preparing for the role luckily, for me, I work with a brilliant cast that brings freshness and authenticity to each of their roles. This creates within us a beautiful bond of trust and friendship that will translate to the audience, drawing them into Truvy’s Beauty Shop to experience many touching moments.”
For Riley (as M’Lynn), the incredible performances from the movie brings “some pressure to be sure.”
“The characters are so beautifully and richly drawn - it’s been a pleasure to really get to know M’Lynn as I rehearse and interact with this amazing cast,” Riley said. “Being surrounded by wonderful actors sure does help.”
“I can’t wait for our community to get the opportunity to experience the funniest play ever to make you cry,” Rich said.
Details: “Steel Magnolias” will be performed May 6 - 22, playing at 7 p.m Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. on Sundays. General admission tickets cost $15, $12 for seniors. Tickets can be purchased online at goldenchaintheatre.org, or by phone (559) 683-7112 10 a.m. - 2 p.m., Tuesday and Thursday.