IU Theatre production highlights tolerance, acceptance of others

Last week, I got the chance to chat with two performers in IU Theatre’s production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” which opened Friday.

The message of tolerance presented by the play seems particularly timely, in light of two very different events — the public stance Indiana University took recently against a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, and a recent event at Ole Miss where performers putting on a production of “The Laramie Project” were heckled. (Not familiar with “The Laramie Project?” It tells the story of the 1998 killing of gay student Matthew Shepard, whose murder is considered a hate crime.)

Ironically — or perhaps not — third-year MFA acting student Aaron Kirkpatrick points out Ole Miss is the alma mater of Brick, the character he plays in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

“Brick is a product of the world he was brought up in, where to be a homosexual is a disgusting thing,” Kirkpatrick said. “While he and Skipper (his best friend) don’t appear to have a sexual relationship, when Skipper is forced by Maggie (Brick’s wife) to admit his affection for Brick is more than what society would expect for friends, it destroys all of the relationships in his life.”

Brick, seated, and Big Daddy in IU Theatre's production of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."

Brick and Big Daddy in IU Theatre’s production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

That, in turn, can be contrasted with third-year MFA acting student Clayton Gerrard’s role of Big Daddy, who is Brick’s father. He came from humble beginnings, but was taken in by a gay couple who gave him the start that allowed him to become successful. His interactions with the caring couple formed his image of gay men, and he rejects the popular opinion of the day.

“Big Daddy represents tolerance, if you will,” Gerrard said. “Which is kind of ironic, since he has no tolerance at all for some members of his family, who are asking for handouts and are just generally annoying. He’s a very down-to-earth, simple man who is also very worldly and understands things from a perspective most people can’t grasp. And I think his attempts to help Brick boils down to this message of tolerance: That it’s OK to let people be themselves, to live in a world not ‘infected by the ideas of other people.'”

Both Gerrard and Kirkpatrick said they hope their performances spur audience members to think deeply about the issues presented by the production.

“As an artist or actor, we always want audience members to walk away with the same thing: A greater willingness to examine the truth of their own lives,” Gerrard said. “There are so many layers to this play. It’s beautifully written, and we hope audiences will come and appreciate it with us.”

Performances of the Tennessee Williams play continue this week in the Ruth N. Halls Theatre, and tickets are still available.

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