Review: “Designing Women” follows its own screenplay for a theatrical performance that serves the daring of the South to its fans

Carla Renata, Sarah Colonna, Elaine Hendrix, Kim Matula, Carmen Cusack and Amy Pietz in “Designing Women” / TheatreSquared

While the patrons awaited the debut of “Designing Women” and during the intermission of the new theatrical version of Theater Square, background music set the tone.

We heard music from The Chicks, who were called “Dixie Chicks” back when the band and the TV version of “Designing Women” overlapped. And there was the song “Redesigning Women”, a track by the female country supergroup The Highwomen. The song is decidedly feminist, as is the show on stage.

“Designing Women” uses many characters from the small screen version which ran from September 1986 to May 1993. But for the new theater show, created by the author of the original TV show, Linda Bloodworth Thomason , most of the characters are not “revamped” but simply moved to the modern era. Instead of AIDS and Bill Clinton, women offer their take on COVID and Donald Trump.

“Conceive women”

Or: Live at TheatreSquared and also in streaming
When: 7:30 p.m. every Tuesday to Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday from September 24 to October 24; the streaming version will debut on October 15
Cost: $ 18 to $ 58; $ 25 to $ 35 for a streaming pass
Tickets: 479-777-7477 or

We are located in the offices of the interior design firm Sugarbaker and Associates in Atlanta, located in the home of Julia Sugarbaker (played by Carmen Cusack). While this production is a continuation of the original series, we’re not told what the women did in the intervening years. We are only looking now.

Now, by the way, it’s very scary. There is considerable calamity, from COVID-19 to a divided political climate that created fault lines ahead of the 2020 presidential election. This is certainly true in Georgia, which appears to be evenly distributed.

Sugarbaker’s home / office is a divided home, at one point, literally, as a quarantine order hits and Suzanne Sugarbaker, Julia’s younger sister, uses part of the space for her product line of beauty. Handing out free perfume samples is about as much ‘work’ as we see any character doing it. Meanwhile, Suzanne’s assistant Haley, who was earlier in the series Julia’s assistant, is tasked with ordering a new Cadillac for Suzanne (Amy Pietz), as she gets a new Cadillac every two years. But there is also talk of the design firm being nearly insolvent given the drop in revenue due to COVID-19 and the backlash from Julia’s progressive policies.

The show is somewhat scattered this way. That’s because it feels like a sitcom, and at nearly three hours, it feels like six episodes of one. The characters come and go, and there’s a lot going on at the same time. There’s the requisite romance, which provides some of the funniest moments on the show – that poor door! And there is no shortage of other things to say. Suzanne, for example, is divorcing Caulder Tipton III (Matthew Floyd Miller), who wears a MAGA hat. Charlene (Elaine Hendrix) is on vacation, maybe. Mary Jo (played by Sarah Colonna, a Farmington native and “Chelsea Lately” writer) attempts to confront a sexual harasser. Cleo (Carla Renata) provides a passionate refusal to attend a plantation wedding. And Haley (often played by Kim Matula, but played by Debra Capps when I watched the series) talks about her dominant husband, who could also be gay. Amusing!

And, yes, it is often very funny, despite the weight of certain subjects.

Pop culture references such as Cleo’s daughter’s obsession with Cardi B and the Kardashians are also sprinkled throughout the show. Coupled with references to masks and the Biden-Trump election, 20 years from now we will have no problem knowing exactly when this show took place. But I also wonder how this show will hold up in 20 years.

In the present, TheatreSquared has brought in a powerful cast starring Broadway and TV veterans to fill the roles.

Aesthetically, the large open room where the figures hang out was nicely decorated, as demanded by a show ostensibly about interior designers. It was also very functional, with a kitchen area, bar, office area, and stairs leading to living quarters above and out of sight.

I was too young (and perhaps too Nordic) to understand or invest in the original series, but this production is aimed directly at its many fans. Julia embarks on a “terminator” rant, the sisters fight and rekindle their relationship, a romantic relationship develops and life goes on. As a sitcom should, “Designing Women” plays out as you might expect – thankfully, and after most characters have grown. I’m also curious about how the series might grow in the future.

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