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ART BEAT: 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' heats up Lionheart Theatre

One of the 20th century's most passionate plays will be heating up the stage of the Lionheart Theatre beginning Friday and running weekends through Sept. 25.

"Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," a play which won author Tennessee Williams the 1955 Pulitzer Prize, will be presented in all of its emotional glory.

The play will be held at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for students and seniors. The show does come with a warning: it is not recommended for children.

"Cat" tells the story of a Mississippi family led by Big Daddy Pollitt, who is celebrating his 65th birthday. His daughter-in-law is the sultry "Maggie the Cat," who is not dealing well with a passionless marriage to Pollitt's son Brick. Portrayed by Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman in the famous movie version of the play, Lionheart actors have some extremely large shoes to fill. However, director Bob Smith is more than confident his cast will be brilliant.

The main characters' roles are played by Ben Humphrey as Brick Pollitt; Sarah Frey as Maggie "The Cat;" Rial Ellsworth as Big Daddy; and Tanya Caldwell as Big Mama. Other cast members include Allen Stone, Bridget Shepard, Ray Green, Mark and Taylor Pope, Audrey and Eli Hirschberg, Barbara Blount and Annie Johnson.

"The play is so rich that I could tell the story very easily," Smith said. "Virtually every character gets a moment in the spotlight to showcase his or her challenges. I have been blessed with a cast that has been very giving, both to me and to each other. Everyone is, first and foremost, interested in telling a good story, and the cast is just in awe of the magic of Tennessee Williams' words."

"Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" is an embodiment, according to Smith, of a quote from Leo Tolstoy's novel "Anna Karenina." Tolstoy wrote that, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

"Although the Pollitt family can be extreme (as they are under extreme circumstances,) there are elements of all our families on display," Smith said.

This play has lasted so long and been so popular for many years for very specific reasons.

"One reason for 'Cat's' popularity is that there are so many angles to view the play," Smith said. "At any given time, one could consider that this is a play about Big Daddy, Big Mama, Brick, Maggie, Gooper or Mae, and even the servants and family doctor. Each character has a particular motivation and stress surrounding the celebration of Big Daddy's 65th birthday, and the subsequent announcement that he is dying of cancer.

"The machinations and 'mendacity' that flow through the play is a real guessing game of what each character knows, and the interactions between them are rich and three-dimensional for that reason."

Smith was originally from Indianapolis, Ind., and found his way to Georgia via Tampa, Fla.

"I started in theatre a few years ago when Tanya Caldwell hired me to play three roles in 'No Time for Sargeants,'" Smith said. "Though I've done work at other theatres such as Georgia Ensemble and Onstage Atlanta, I've been the gum stuck to Tanya's shoe ever since."

"With this play, we have developed scene after scene that positively gives me goose bumps to watch," Smith said. "I hope that translates to the audience."

Lionheart Theatre is located in the historic church at 10 College St. in Downtown Historic Norcross, now called the Norcross Cultural Arts and Community Center. For more information, visit its website at www.lionhearttheatre.org or call 678-938-8518.

Holley Calmes is a freelance writer and public relations consultant specializing in the arts. Email her at hcalmes@mindspring.com.