Cobb woman's first turn on stage a starring role

It took Catherine Raymond 69 years to muster the courage to get up on the stage. But the Bronx-born east Cobb resident recently made her acting debut in a production of “Steel Magnolias” at Transfiguration Catholic Church in Marietta. With a still-detectable New York twang, she tackled the role of Southern powerhouse Ouiser Boudreaux.

“I had no experience at all, no background in theater,” said Raymond, a retiree from the Cobb County Board of Health. “I’d never even been on the stage, not even during grammar school, high school and college. It just wasn’t my thing.”

But when a drama group formed at her church, Raymond reconsidered the idea of getting up in front of a crowd.

“My husband died three years ago, and I thought this would be an interesting way of meeting new people, discovering new ideas,” she said. “It was a different way of getting involved in the church. But when I signed up, I really thought I’d be backstage, working on props or something.”

Raymond’s journey into the spotlight was somewhat accidental. The small group originally planned to do a different show, but when not enough men volunteered for the available roles, the switch to “Magnolias” was made. Based on the award-winning 1989 movie, the story follows the lives of six closely connected women in a small Southern town.

“When they asked me to play Ouiser, I didn’t have a clue what this lady was about,” said Raymond. “I had never seen the movie or the play. Everyone I’ve known since I moved here in 1982 thought it was very funny that this New York lady was playing someone from Louisiana. I finally did get the hang of the accent; by speaking slowly, I could do it.”

But the biggest challenge wasn’t speaking with a drawl: It was remembering to speak at all.

“Memorizing the lines was a challenge,” she said. “I had to learn not only my own lines, but a phrase or two before and after so I’d know where I was going. In one scene, there were four or five of us, and each of us had one line, right after the other. Holy Moses, I had to count the lines until it was my turn to speak again.”

About 200 people showed up for the show’s two performances. But it wasn’t the success of the play that made it worth doing, said Raymond.

“I only knew one of the other women when we started, and I had only met the director once, but I found a new group of fantastic friends who are truly steel magnolias,” she said. “One is a cancer survivor, two are students, one works for a ad agency -- I learned all their stories.

"It was like a play itself, but it was real life.”

"Milestones" covers significant events and times in the lives of metro Atlantans. Big or small, well-known or not -- tell us of a Milestone we should write about. Send information to hm_cauley@yahoo.com; call 404-514-6162; or mail to Milestones, c/o Jamila Robinson, 223 Perimeter Center Parkway N.E., Atlanta, GA 30346.