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Lafayette College Theater continues its season-long celebration of 20th century American plays with a production of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at 8 p.m. March 1-4 in the Williams Center for the Arts.

The play contains adult language and situations. For tickets, call the Williams Center box office (610) 330-5009. A special free brown-bag preview will be presented at noon Monday, Feb. 28, in the Williams Center. Lunch may be brought or purchased for $3.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is directed by Michael C. O’Neill, Lafayette’s director of theater. The winner of the 1955 Pulitzer Prize for drama, it is the third production in “The American Season: 1999-2000,” a series highlighting the American experience and how American playwrights interpreted it for the stage over the past 100 years. The series’ first production, Working, a musical adapted from Studs Terkel’s book, was selected to participate in the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, which recognizes the finest work produced in university and college theater programs nationally.

Scenery for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is by Richard A. Kendrick; lighting by Vicki Neal; costumes by D. Polly Kendrick, Parrott Designs; and sound by Timothy Frey. Kimberly Corbett, a junior from Clifton, N.J., is the stage manager.

The play shocked audiences in the Eisenhower years with its frank treatment of adultery, alcoholism, and homosexuality and won the Pulitzer Prize and the Drama Critics Award. The Lafayette production will implement Williams’ 1974 rewritten version of the 1954-55 original.

“Our country’s enduring plays deal with struggles within the family, and Cat On A Hot Tin Roof is no exception,” O’Neill says. “Williams has created in this play some of the most fascinating characters in American drama, including Big Daddy, Maggie the Cat, and Brick Pollitt, and through their conflicts sketches a compelling and devastating portrait of an American society that uses lies — or what the play calls ‘mendacity’ — as its currency of living.

“Playing Williams’ characters and confronting their inner conflicts is a serious and wonderful challenge for our students,” O’Neill continues. “It is not a simple thing for a college student, especially in the often-conservative atmosphere of College Hill, to get up on stage in a slip and play a character who begs her husband to sleep with her, or to play a character who drinks because he deserted his homosexual friend — and might even be homosexual himself.

“While the film starring Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor, and Burl Ives is a complete travesty of the play — including a tacked-on, happy Hollywood ending — our production, I believe, is closer to Williams’ original intent,” O’Neill says. “The play ends as it began, in a stalemate, but the characters have grown in understanding of one another. One of the interesting ironies of the script is that now, in the year 2000, many of the things that Williams could only hint at in 1955 — and even in 1974 — seem apparent to our students.

“The production will take us to another time and place — Northern Mississippi in 1955 — but my hope is that our audience will see in the play and in their reactions to it a measure of how much America has matured. I think Tennessee Williams would have liked that, because his characters tell us in this play that understanding and tolerance are what we need,” O’Neill concludes.

The five young children of Gooper and Mae, called “no-neck monsters” by Maggie, will be played by college students, capturing their essential grotesque nature. In another departure, the director emphasizes visually the ghosts that haunt the Pollitt estate and Brick’s consciousness. Three dead characters, the subject of conversations throughout the play, are visible to the audience, but not to the other characters. They are Skipper, Brick’s former football buddy, who drank himself to death because he and Brick could not face the sexual ambiguities of their close friendship; Peter Ochello, one of the original owners of the estate; and Jack Straw, his life partner, also one of the original owners of the estate.

This will be the final main-stage appearance for three veterans of Lafayette productions, seniors Josh Oshinsky of Baldwin, N.Y., Sam Shaw of Tupper Lake, N.Y., and Gianna Locascio of Atlantic Highlands, N.J.

Oshinsky, with nine prior plays to his credit, plays Brick. “It’s nice to go out with a bang,” he says. “Brick is a tough character. He wrestles with issues of sexuality, alcoholism, and things you don’t normally touch on in everyday life. He’s most guys’ worst nightmare, and ironically, most girls’ dream.

“Theater at Lafayette has been the most rewarding experience that I’ve taken from this institution,” Oshinsky continues. “It’s a unique opportunity to find a real blend of personality types, which is very different from what many other extra-curricular activities offer. I would like to thank the entire Williams Center staff, especially Michael O’Neill, whose hard work and dedication at times goes unnoticed.”

Shaw says, “I’ve done quite a few shows and learned a lot, not only about acting, but also about society, psychology, and the way people interact with each other. You can learn a lot from the stage that pertains to real life, like getting in touch with your own emotions, that has value beyond surface acting skills.”

Shaw, who has participated in eight previous Lafayette plays, takes on one of the most challenging parts of his career, Big Daddy, the patriarch who is told he is not dying of cancer, but later discovers through Brick that the diagnosis is a lie.

“One of the real challenges in playing my character — and Brick’s — is the fact that the majority of the second act is dominated by a discussion between the two of them,” Shaw says. “Brick is trying to make Big Daddy come to terms with his cancer, while Big Daddy is confronting his son about his alcoholism and confusion about himself. There’s a large amount of stage time where it’s just the two talking about much of the same thing, but not getting to the heart of the matter. There are powerful emotional moments that, with any luck, should hold the audience’s attention.”

Lafayette College Theater’s season will include Alison’s House, Susan Glaspell’s rarely produced 1931 Pulitzer-Prize winner, April 12-15, and American Acts, six one-act American plays directed by students, April 27-29, both in the Williams Center Black Box. Admission to American Acts will be free.

The cast: Margaret — Rosaria Pilato ’02 (Redding, Conn.); Brick — Joshua Oshinsky ’00 (Baldwin, N.Y.); Big Mama — Liza Zitelli ’02 (Bergenfield, N.J.); Big Daddy — Samuel Shaw ’00 (Tupper Lake, N.Y.); Mae (Sister Woman) — Gianna Locascio ’00 (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.); Gooper (Brother Man) — Terrence Monte ’03 (Valhalla, N.Y.); Doc Baugh — David Campos ’01 (Rochester, N.Y.); Reverend Tooker — Jonathan Pushman ’02 (Trenton, N.J.); Lacey — Josh Brodsky ’03 (Needham, Mass.); Sookey — Sandra Veresink ’02 (Easton, Pa.); Skipper — Alex Walker ’03 (McLean, Va.); Jack Straw — Andrew Platt ’01 (West Chester, Pa.); Peter Ochello — Vilas Menon ’02 (Wassenaar, Netherlands); Dixie — Jennifer Cilia ’02 (Poughkeepsie, N.Y.); Trixie — Elizabeth Youngkin ’03 (Easton, Pa.); Buster — Ricardo El-Darwish ’03 (Ferney-Voltaire, France); Sonny — Andrew Saunders ’02 (Albion, N.Y.); Polly — Melissa Jackson ’03 (Clifton Park, N.Y.)

Categorized in: Students