Music Theatre of Connecticut’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
One of Tennessee Williams’ ‘Big Three’ plays, (alongside A Streetcar Named Desire and The Glass Menagerie) Cat on a Hot Tin Roof first premiered on Broadway in March of 1955. It has since become a pivotal centerpiece of American drama. Protagonists Brick and Maggie have become American icons, their relationship representing a trope in gay history, as well as the 1950’s yen for a better tomorrow.
This fall, The Music Theatre of Connecticut (MTC) will unveil its steamy new production of TIN ROOF, with artistic director Kevin Connors at the helm. With a lengthy artistic resume, which includes much of MTC’s onstage work, he is an 8-time Connecticut Critics’ Circle Best Director nominee, the recipient of the Tom Killen Award for Outstanding Contribution to Connecticut Professional Theatre, and served on the faculties of The Hartt School of Music/University of Hartford, University of Bridgeport, Musical Theatre Works in New York. He is currently an Adjunct Professor of Theatre at Sacred Heart University.
What drew you to direct CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF?
I have always loved Tennessee Williams, and, having come from a southern family, CAT is the show I connect with most. And even though it is set in 1955, I think family issues like the ones in CAT resonate with every family, so the themes are universal. And the language is so beautiful; the show is just a masterpiece.
Has our current climate impacted programming TIN ROOF in your season?
From a cultural viewpoint, it is fascinating to see the perspective and normalization of the culture of the time. From GONE WITH THE WIND forward, the whole “southern plantation culture” has been so glamorized and the real life elements of the era have been largely ignored. Today’s audiences can be out of touch with that, which is a cultural issue in itself. And while that’s just a given circumstance and not the centerpiece of the play, that is certainly running in the background all the time.
How much attention are you giving to the homoerotic content in the play?
The major focus of the piece is the repressive, puritanical, and homophobic climate of the 1950’s and how that literally destroys Skipper first and, subsequently, Brick. While the LGBT movement made major headway from 2005 through 2017, the last two years have resulted in a major step backward. This is dangerous, not only legally, but also culturally. Hate crimes are spiking, hate groups are now being encouraged – it’s all very frightening. CAT certainly demonstrates how damaging a homophobic societal view can fatally impact a gay man or woman struggling with identity, and the destructive power of even the most passive hate. In this current climate, people need to be reminded of that. Our last show of the season is CABARET, so we’re definitely trying to raise awareness with both pieces as to the impact intolerance and the current us/them atmosphere can potentially have.
With your seasons that largely comprised of musical theater, what does directing a play mean to you?
(Laughs) Even though I am known as more of a musical theatre director, I have actually directed a number of plays. My favorites are the ones with teeth. I love the power that theatre can have and nothing is better than an audience leaving the theatre and thinking and talking about a piece long after it is over. It can truly be life-changing.
What were you looking for when casting the play?
I am always looking for actors that are very organic, naturalistic, and willing to play. My style is to bring the actor’s essence to the role (the inside-out approach) as opposed to fitting them into my pre-conceived idea of exactly how the role should be played. That said, I do have a very strong vision and I am absolutely obsessive about casting. I’m open to a range of approaches, but when I see an actor who I think really is in-sync with my vision for the role, I know it instantly.
As a director, what do you ideally want from actors?
I want them to be creative, do their research, and be team players. We work very hard at MTC to create a totally supportive and safe environment for our artists, and I know that is why actors love working here. CAT, in particular, is an ensemble piece, and the audience must believe all but two of them are a family. Even though we only see a portion of their “baggage”, there is no mistake that there is plenty more, so I encourage actors to think about that as well and bring as many elements of the back story into the piece as possible.
What do you want audiences to walk away with?
Everyone will find certain characters and interactions in the play that they will immediately connect with. Spoiler alert: one of the most fascinating elements of the show for me is that the character that initially seems the most controlling, bigoted, and mean is the one who, later on, demonstrates the most unconditional love and support for Brick when he reveals his identity struggle and overwhelming guilt of having caused the death of his one true love. That, in itself, is a formidable statement of unconditional love. It’s such a beautiful and commanding piece.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof runs at Music Theatre of Connecticut November 2 – 18
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