The Actors Gang Saves Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Resurrects Play as NOH8 Fundraiser

Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor in the 1958 film version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor in the 1958 film version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

As an actor in the Santa Clarita production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which was canceled Monday following an incident with a homophobic heckler, John Lacy had more reason to be bummed about the scrapped shows than just about anyone.

It wasn't just that Lacy had been the star of the production, portraying Tennessee Williams' iconic Big Daddy. It's also that his mother was due to fly in this weekend from Hendersonville, North Carolina, to see him on stage - for the first time in his 27-year career as an actor.

And even beyond that? After Lacy had disrupted the production to confront a heckler hurling gay slurs at another actor, some of his cast-mates blamed him for the production shutdown. One actress, he says, called it "unforgivable."

See also: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Production Canceled After Homophobic Fracas

"I don't know about you," he says, "but I reserve 'unforgivable' for serial killers." Still, Lacy found himself wondering if he'd done the right thing.

Enter actor Brian Finney. A longtime member of the Actors Gang, the Culver City-based company founded by Tim Robbins, Finney is also close friend of Lacy's. He knew that the actor's mother was planning a trip to L.A. - and that Lacy was blue about the shutdown.

So Finney persuaded Robbins and co-artistic director Cynthia Ettinger to agree to a one-night-only production at the Actors Gang home on Venice Boulevard. Then he persuaded Lacy to get his fellow actors on board to make it happen.

The show was announced yesterday. By this afternoon, all 96 seats had already sold out.

"It's like one of these sappy screenplays that makes $100 million," Lacy marveled to the Weekly. "It's a happy ending!"

Lacy acknowledges that he was initially resistant to the idea, mainly because the cast was "fractured." And, indeed, only four of the eight cast members from the Santa Clarita production have agreed to be a part of the Actors Gang show. But Finney convinced him that they could do a bare-bones staged reading using veterans from the Actors Gang to take the other roles.

Among the original players who will be appearing? Emily Low, who played Maggie, and was initially blamed for the shutdown by some cast members who alleged that one of the hecklers was her boyfriend. (Low has disputed that to the Weekly. And while Lacy says that Low at first downplayed how offensive the hecklers were, he's thrilled she's on board: "I don't think she has an ill-intentioned bone in her body.")

Also involved with the production? Tim Sullivan, an indie screenwriter and producer who just happened to be in the audience the night of the heckling. 

Exasperated that there had been no producer, stage manager or security around at the time when a drunk audience member began yelling homophobic slurs at the actors, Sullivan took matters into his own hands and escorted the heckler out of the theater before he could throw a punch at actor Lacy, who'd charged down from the stage.

"I just went down and took the guy out," he tells the Weekly by phone. But it was too late: Lacy had been fired for confronting the heckler, and the whole production was canned. "The producer was nowhere to be found," Sullivan says. 

See also: Tim Robbins takes control at the Actor's Gang 

Until now, that is. "In just five days, I went from being an audience member to producing it," Sullivan says, still in shock by the events of the last week. 

As for Finney, he says he was inspired to act after hearing about Lacy's brave actions. "I want to stand up for the guy who's going to stand up for somebody," he says, adding, "There's been a lot of Monday-morning quarterbacking about this. The bottom line is, I don't know if 90 percent of us would have done what John did. It's the thing we all want to do - we all want to be the good guy. But a lot of times, the opportunity comes, and you're like, 'Somebody else will do it' or 'I think the house manager should do something.' I thought, I've got an opportunity to help the guy who did the right thing."

He adds, "I told him, 'If there's anybody besides your parents and your best friend there, that's great. You'll get a chance to play your part.'" 

Held at the Ivy Substation stage, proceeds from Saturday's show will benefit the NoH8 Campaign, a charitable organization that promotes marriage and gender equality. While the 8 p.m. show is sold out, Finney says they may sell some standing-room-only tickets.

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