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story.lead_photo.caption Sean Clancy, Paper Trails columnist

They're back, and they're coming to Arkansas.

Julia Sugarbaker and the rest of Sugarbaker & Associates -- Suzanne Sugarbaker, Mary Jo Shively and Charlene Frazier -- return in the stage version of Linda Bloodworth-Thomason's sitcom Designing Women.

The play, being written by Bloodworth-Thomason, makes its world premiere at Fayetteville's TheaterSquared on Aug. 12 and will run through Sept. 13.

The TV sitcom, which starred Dixie Carter, Jean Smart, Delta Burke, Annie Potts and Meshach Taylor, aired on CBS from 1986-93. Produced by Bloodworth-Thomason's husband, Hampton native Harry Thomason, it was nominated for 18 Emmys.

"For years, people have said it would make a good play, but Linda has always been occupied with something else," Thomason said Friday from Los Angeles.

Still, it was a project that had been on their minds, and a trip to Fayetteville helped persuade them to revive the show for the stage.

Thomason was there promoting his 2019 memoir, Brother Dog: Southern Tales and Hollywood Adventures, when TheaterSquared artistic director Robert Ford took him to the newly redesigned, 50,000-square-foot space and asked when they were going to take Designing Women there as a play.

"It's a stunning theater," says Thomason, who also directed episodes of Designing Women. "When I got back, I told Linda all about it, and she said that it was time."

The sitcom, which featured exterior shots of the Arkansas Governor's Mansion and Villa Marre, a home in Little Rock, won awards from the ACLU and GLAAD and never shied from subjects like AIDS, gun rights and politics.

Sounds like Bloodworth-Thomason's stage version won't either.

In a March 3 story in The New York Times about the production, she said: "What I really wanted to do was take those women as we last saw them and set them down right now. They'll have the same history, be the same people, have the same attitudes, the same philosophies, but they'll be talking about #MeToo and the Kardashians, and Donald Trump, and all that's going on right now."

A description at theater2.org says the characters "have become just as divided as the rest of the country. Sparked by the increasingly polarizing environment, the ladies' well-documented political and philosophical differences have finally driven them to the brink of selling the business and going their separate ways."

No roles have been cast yet, Thomason says.

"It's still a little too early. We'll start casting in April, but we are already looking around."

After its Fayetteville run, plans are to take the show to the Alabama Shakespeare Festival and the Dallas Theater Center with the hopes of eventually landing in New York.

"The trajectory always leads toward Broadway," Thomason says.

email: [email protected]

SundayMonday on 03/08/2020

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