With only one week left until opening night, one of the main actors in Ann Arbor Civic Theatre’s “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” had to bow out for personal reasons. The remaining cast and crew found themselves in a difficult position.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Arthur Miller Theatre
“We have a lot of work to do and the cast knows that. And they are ready for the challenge,” Director Kat Walsh said.
A good portion of this work falls on University graduate James Ingagiola, who stepped up to play the role of Brick. Ingagiola is no stranger to the Ann Arbor theater community, having written, directed and starred in countless shows, including A2CT’s production of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” But even with his experience, the play presents some new obstacles.
“I’m not used to doing American realism, so there was that challenge,” Ingagiola said. “I’m much more used to doing classical pieces and Shakespeare.”
The celebrated play by Tennessee Williams tells the story of the Pollits, a dysfunctional, but very wealthy, Southern family. With the aging patriarch, Big Daddy, dying of cancer, the family must deal with its own greed, lies and inner turmoil or risk tearing the family apart.
Like most shows, the cast begins each practice with a series of warm-ups that include a mix of vocal exercises as well as a few simple yoga stretches. Sometimes, though, Walsh likes to introduce some elements of fun into an otherwise very dramatic rehearsal.
One such exercise had the cast performing the entirety of the show in under an hour using only their characters’ subtext and staging for the dialogue. The task allowed the actors to get crazy, while also letting them explore their characters’ ulterior, and often unsaid, motives.
While the upcoming opening night adds pressure for the ensemble, they must also deal with the stress from their careers outside of the play. Walsh works for the Office of University Development and Anna Heinl, who plays Maggie, works as an attorney in Southfield, Mich.
“I work and live 45 minutes away so it’s a long commute, but it’s worth it for this amazing experience with these great people,” Heinl said.
Despite busy schedules, the actors wouldn’t dream of giving up theater. The passion they have for the work keeps them coming back time and again.
“I think what’s important is that you believe in the transformative power of the arts,” Walsh explained. “You believe in the questions being asked and you fight to be on that stage.”
Ingagiola, who takes a more personal view of the arts, added, “It’s the communion of working with other actors and communicating ideas to an audience which I really enjoy.”
When the audience walks out, Walsh and the cast hope they leave discussing the story told and the themes within that story.
“When a play is asking the right questions and does the right job, people don’t walk away talking about the director or the actors or the set; they’re going to walk away talking about the content of the play,” Walsh said. “That’s a sign of good theater.”