Atlanta based playwright and screenwriter, Topher Payne, is back at the Springer. This time as director of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which opens January 24 – February 3 at the Springer. Payne debuted two original comedies Lakebottom Prime and Lakebottom Proper several years ago and directed his award-winning comedy, A Perfect Arrangement last season in McClure Theatre.
Q: Do you prefer to direct your own plays or someone else’s? What are the advantages and disadvantages of directing your own play vs. someone else’s play?
A: I’ve loved the chances I’ve had to direct my own work, but that’s pretty rare- Perfect Arrangement at The Springer was only the second time I’d done it. What I love about the experience of approaching another writer’s work is following the clues to solve the mystery of who these characters are. In preparation, I map out where every character ends up at the play’s conclusion, and then work backward to figure out how they got there. If the playwright is alive and you can get them on the phone, that communication is of course quite helpful. But in a situation like Cat on Hot Tin Roof, that conversation is limited to Mr. Williams’ published notes and the script itself. So it really does feel like detective work, which is really exciting.
Q: In directing such a classic as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, do you put any personal touches on the show that are uniquely you or do you feel pressure to stay true to the script?
A: I think it’s possible to do both. Honoring the author’s intentions is one of the most important parts of my job, and as a writer myself I’m even more sensitive to that. But I’m also hired for the perspective and experience I bring- on this production it’s helpful that I’m a native Mississippian. I know what summer feels like in the Delta, and I know and love people who remind me a lot of these characters. And I know what they sound like, so we don’t run the risk of those “dipped in molasses” accents one often hears in a Tennessee Williams play.
Q: What will audiences get out of the Springer’s production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof?
A: I don’t think people give this play enough credit for how funny it is. Nobody understands laughter through tears quite like Southerners. And then there’s the extraordinary design- the set, lights, costumes… this is a visually stunning production.
Q: Do you have a favorite scene in the show?
A: Because the play never takes a break- it all plays out in real time- it feels like one constantly escalating scene. And I love how Tennessee Williams keeps raising the stakes- a heated argument will be punctuated by fireworks going off, and then a parade of screaming children running through the door. This isn’t the night that something happens in the Pollitt house. It’s the night that everything happens.
Click here for more information on Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.