Stage One brings 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' to Janesville Performing Arts Center

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Jonah Beleckis
Wednesday, October 4, 2017

JANESVILLE—A show about family, lies and greed is coming to the Janesville Performing Arts Center this month.

The audience could learn a lot about the way families relate to, lie to and love each other when watching Stage One's production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” a show director Jim Stewart said was among the best ever and one of his personal favorites.

The Tennessee Williams play, which won the 1955 Pulitzer Prize for drama, covers a wide range of subject matter including social mores, greed, superficiality, mendacity, decay, sexual desire, repression and death.

The story centers a cotton plantation family whose patriarch, Big Daddy Pollitt, is unknowingly dying of cancer. In the background, his sons, Brick and Gooper, and their respective wives, Maggie and Mae, know the truth, and all but Brick are locked in a secret battle for control of the family's estate.

Brick, the younger brother and a former football hero, stays out of the fray, seeking solace in the bottle after the death of his close friend Skipper. Having confessed his love for Brick, and having been rejected, Skipper kills himself. This leaves Brick depressed and confused about his own sexuality.

Broadly, the show is about the lies people tell themselves and those close to them to feel better or to keep their agendas moving forward, Stewart said.

“It's very frank in the way that families relate to each other,” Stewart said. “It doesn't pull any punches. People lie to each other. They're cruel. On the other hand, they also love each other.”

Sparing someone else's feelings can also lead to terrible repercussions in the show, Stewart said.

“It's a 'the road to hell is paved in good intentions' kind of thing,” he said.

Michelle Dennis, who plays matriarch Big Mamma and who also works at the Hedberg Public Library, said Williams is one of the finest playwrights she has ever read.

“Every word matters,” she said. “Every interaction between people carries emotion.”

Dennis said she has long been active in the theater community in the Janesville/Beloit area. She lives in Clinton, and she said since her first show in 1999 she has been in nearly 40 plays, slowly progressing to more and more involved roles.

Dennis describes Big Mamma as the glue of the Pollitt family. Even with all the surrounding strife and dispute, Big Mamma tries to keep people interacting with one another and keep them positive—“as mamas do,” she said.

“It will touch people's hearts and remind them of the importance of the relationships in their lives,” Dennis said. “It's very real.”

Returning to productions over the last year or so has been a welcome feeling for Stewart. He's been in Janesville for about four years, but he spent about two years recovering from an April 2015 heart attack and stroke, he said.

Although he said he will never be fully recovered—he is partially disabled with partial right-side paralysis—returning to the stage for recent productions over the last year has helped him “immeasurably,” he said.

Some of the actors in the production drove Stewart to rehearsals for recent shows, he said. He needs a cane to get around, which limited how comfortable he felt on stage.

Confidence from a recent acting role helped make the knee on his weaker side stronger, Stewart said. He got used to the stage and where everything would be.

By the time that show opened, he wasn't using a cane.

Directing shows also helped him get to a better place mentally, he said.

“Getting back to something that I love and stuff that I was good at and knowing I could still do, that made a big difference,” he said.

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