Seventh Grade, Parkside Junior High in San Bruno, Friday night and several of us suburban young lads were planning an evening at the El Camino Theater, watching some sort of animal picture.
"Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," it was called -- Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman were in it -- oddly, the cat didn't get any credit at all. All of the five or six of us were in the early throes of puberty, and we didn't understand a thing about the movie based on the Tennessee Williams Pulitzer Prize-winning play.
And, except for some near-primal yearnings, we didn't understand puberty, either. Subsequent viewings of the play and the film have increased and enhanced our understanding of the piece; in the broadest sense, it is a story about the birds and bees and how wildly complicated they can be if you toss a few family problems into the mix.
You can see for yourself, again, or for the first time, when "Cat," kicks off Danville's annual Eugene O'Neill Festival. The show opens Sept. 5 in Danville's Village Theatre, 420 Front St., where Role Players Ensemble will present The Tennessee Williams Show in eight weekend performances through Sept. 20.
For those well past puberty, the play is an excellent portrait of a family that is dysfunctional for so many different reasons ranging from a patriarch (Big Daddy) who is worshiped and reviled and finds himself dying; Brick, Big Daddy's golden boy son, who finds himself failing in many ways, from vocationally to sexually as he deals with family members, including Maggie "The Cat," his frustrated and frustrating wife.
This is only the topping on a rats' nest of troubles and lies that have created a family ripe with Big Daddy's contention that the group is filled with mendacity in every corner. Lies have become the family's enamel, thickly applied to gloss over the fact that the Pollitt family seems to have reached the end of its line, and to do some self-delusion to convince each other that the family line is just as strong and unbreakable as it ever was.
"Cat," directed by George Maguire, "Cat," plays at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets, at $20 to $28, may be reserved at 925-314-3400 or www.roleplayersensemble.com. The show is being presented along with O'Neill's "The Iceman Cometh" to illustrate this year's festival theme, "The Art of the Escape," something built into both plays.
O'Neill Foundation program director and Role Players Ensemble Artistic Director Eric Fraisher Hayes, who directs "Iceman," said that not only does the theme of the festival reflect itself mightily in "Cat," but it also shows how the influence O'Neill's move into realistic storytelling also had a profound effect on Williams' work.
"This is a sensational choice of plays for us to produce," said Hayes. "O'Neill's impact on Tennessee Williams is very evident, covering some of the same themes that O'Neill led with in many of his later works -- greed, social mores, and an unwillingness to let go of the 'pipe dreams' so strongly held by characters in each of the plays."
"Iceman" is set in the Last Chance Saloon in New York City's Greenwich Village of 1912, and features a cast of characters wanting something else. The dreams seem to move closer to reality when evangelist-inspired salesman Theodore "Hickey" Hickman" shows up for one of his semiannual visits. This time the visit has a different tone, and its effect on the Last Chance customers is profound.
"Iceman," plays in the Old Barn at Tao House in the hills behind Danville. Audience members meet at the Museum of San Ramon on Railroad Avenue for the free ride to the home. Tickets to the play cost $35 and may be reserved at 925-820-1818 or www.eugeneoneill.org.
LISA LOEB IN CONCERT: Singer Lisa Loeb's current national tour stops in Pleasanton Sept. 6 for an 8 p.m. show in the Firehouse Theatre, 4444 Railroad Ave.
Loeb's performance launches the intimate theater's season and celebrates the singer's two decades in performance, including her huge hit, "Stay (I Miss You)," which not only went platinum, but has been used on the soundtrack of a number of television shows.
Reserved seating tickets are $22.50 to $35 and available at 925-931-4848 at the theater's home or at center box office, 4444 Railroad Ave.
Contact Pat Craig at firstname.lastname@example.org.