Beaufort Theater Company puts fresh take on "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof"

jpaprocki@islandpacket.comMarch 14, 2012 

  • Performances of Beaufort Theater Company's "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" are at 7 p.m. March 16-17 and March 22-24 and at 3 p.m. March 18 at the University of South Carolina Beaufort Center for the Arts, 801 Carteret St., Beaufort. Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for seniors/military and $15 for students. Discounts are available for groups of 10 or more.

    Details: 843-521-4145, www.uscb.edu/community-outreach/center-for-the-arts

"Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" is one of those plays that's difficult to make your own. It's been considered one of the best pieces of American theater since opening on Broadway in 1955. It's been performed repeatedly. The 1958 movie starring Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor is iconic.

So a challenge arises for a production company looking to perform the play. How can a classic become fresh again?

The Beaufort Theater Company has experience tackling that issue on productions of "Arsenic and Old Lace" and "To Kill a Mockingbird," among others. It will stage "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" starting March 16 at the University of South Carolina Beaufort Center for the Arts.

The first step in making it their own is simple: Forget the past.

"When we started I said, 'If you've seen the movie and enjoyed it, that's great. Don't see it again,' " director Ian Sprague said.

The company went back to Tennessee Williams' original script, which differs from the original Broadway show and movie version. Sprague dissected the play bas what Williams first intended, even researching notes and comments Williams made about the characters.

"Of course, there'll be similarities between our version and the movie," he said. "But it's not the movie."

The plot involves the Pollitts of Mississippi, a family in crisis. Big Daddy Pollitt doesn't know that he's dying, while his son, Brick, is mired in alcoholism and a deteriorating romance to his wife, Maggie -- or Maggie the Cat.

Jennifer Joyce, who plays Maggie, is acting in the shadow of the legendary Liz Taylor. She saw the movie years earlier but is taking a slightly different take on the character.

"Maggie is a complex character," Joyce said. "She can be sympathetic. She's very manipulative, but very soft and sweet at the same time."

In the case of classics such as "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," productions can vary simply because the original script is so layered and nuanced, said Jeff Evans, who plays Big Daddy.

"It's all in the lines," he said. "It's all about analyzing the script. Everybody has a different take on the characters. If a play is well written, it's hard to go wrong."

Some of the cast have thought about getting together to watch the movie afterward. Michael Kane, who plays Brick, is still unsure.

"Would I watch the movie?" he asks with a grin. "If I wanted to torture myself -- yes."

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