Cast of TheatreSquared's "Designing Women": Carmen Cusack (center) as Julia Sugarbaker; (l-r) Kim Matula as Haley McPhee, Carla Renata as Cleo Bouvier; Sarah Colonna as Mary Jo Shively; Amy Pietz as Suzanne Sugarbaker; and Elaine Hendrix as Charlene Frazier courtesy of TheatreSquared

Notice from the New York Times puts a spotlight on Linda Bloodworth-Thomason’s revival of her hit TV show “Designing Women,” which premiered at Fayetteville’s TheatreSquared last week. The two-act comedy places the Sugarbaker sisters et al. in a relatively current moment, eavesdropping “on the women and a few new characters as they contend with the pandemic, the possible financial collapse of their firm and the 2020 presidential election.” And, maybe unsurprisingly, the theater’s COVID protocols elicited outrage from those unwilling to present proof of vaccination in order to attend. More from the NYT:

Though TheaterSquared announced the show in early 2020, Bloodworth-Thomason didn’t start writing it until this year, ultimately amassing some 7,000 pages. … The September draft flaunted her practiced style, a rapier wit with a bedazzled handle, and included a few callbacks for dedicated fans, like a riff on Julia’s “the lights went out in Georgia” speech.

The feminism still isn’t especially intersectional, even as the firm now includes a co-owner who is Black and queer, Anthony’s cousin Cleo (Carla Renata). But the script has updated its politics. The first line has Julia instructing Hayley (Kim Matula), the new receptionist, in temperature checks for clients. “If they refuse, kick ’em out,” Julia says. “If they’re wearing a MAGA hat, don’t let ’em in.” In the background a voice mail message plays, calling Julia a “lying socialist slut.”

Bloodworth-Thomason dreams of a tour of the South for the play and an eventual berth on Broadway. But it’s dialogue like this that explains why she and Thomason chose TheaterSquared for the tryout. Washington County, which encompasses Fayetteville, went for Trump in 2020, though by a somewhat narrow margin — 50.39 percent to Trump, and 46.49 percent to Joseph R. Biden’s ticket — and the theater attracts spectators who don’t all vote the same way.

“I know that not everybody who walks in the door would automatically agree with me in a conversation over a beer,” Miller told me. But the theater deliberately programs plays that prompt those conversations. And the cafe has 16 local beers on tap. …

On a Tuesday, about two weeks before previews began, the theater thrummed with activity — set painting, costume stitching, wig combing. The scenery was half assembled, and a variety of faux topiary dotted the back of the auditorium. The theater had recently announced new Covid protocols, which require that audience members offer proof of vaccination or a recent negative test, and Miller had to devote several hours to handling angry responses, like an email describing the protocols as “an imperialist act against our democracy” — only a step or two removed from “lying socialist slut.”