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Bless the Delta’s heart

by Lenise Willis

Vanderveen Photography

Born and bred Southerners understand subtleties, white lies and passive aggression. It’s a unique culture that prides itself on genuine southern hospitality, and yet a polite smile isn’t always a truthful indication of one’s fondness for someone. Deceit is accepted for the sake of nice, and family is what matters most.

We’re difficult to figure out. But that isn’t stopping New York resident John O’Creagh from performing as the cotton plantation owner, Big Daddy, in Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

O’Creagh may not have grown up understanding the true meaning of “bless her heart,” but he says he’s ready to tackle Triad Stage’s upcoming production.

“The experience of exploring Big Daddy

has been rather nice,” he said. “The work has been very titillating.” And though he’s never visited the Delta, he said that he has many southern friends from which to draw inspiration. Of course, his experiences have always been nice, giving him the positive taste of our southern culture””which is just as important.

The classic is about a prestigious family living in the Mississippi Delta. Everyone has gathered at the house of Big Daddy, the patriarch of the family, for his 65 th birthday celebration. Big Daddy, who has been fighting cancer, and his wife, Big Mama, believe he has a clean bill of health””and his family isn’t going to reveal the truth. Of course, the thought of his impending inheritance have given a few family members another agenda to worry about, and the drama ensues.

“Big Daddy is a pretty interesting fella,” O’Creagh said, already using country lingo. “He’s worked his way up from nothing, to a very rich man. The difficulty is that for the last three years he thought he was dying and sort of withdrew into himself. Now he thinks he’s got a reprieve and so he’s trying to reclaim everything that he thought he’d lost, and particularly wants to straighten out his sons.

“It’s really been fun jugging all of the aspects of the character.”

But just because the play is set in the Delta, on a cotton plantation no less, this play isn’t just about the south or southern intricacies. It’s about family, love, fear, deceit, and how each person handles challenges differently.

“This is a very human play,” O’Creagh said. “It describes the human experience very closely. It’s Shakespearean in a way.

“We all have to think about our eventual sign-off, the fact that we’re all going to go at some point. There’s the sense that one has to prepare oneself for that and to prepare your legacy, particularly if there’s a family involved. We all have to look at our final days.”

And, of course, we’ve all experienced the challenge of right and wrong, and how to not hurt the ones that we love, too.

Audiences will definitely appreciate Tennessee Williams’ remarkable capturing of the south, as well as what it means to be a family, in this emotional drama. If anything, I look forward to hearing O’Creagh, a New York resident who grew up in Pennsylvania, tackle the southern accent. !

WANNA go?

Triad Stage’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof officially opens Friday, Aug. 28, and runs through Sept. 20 at The Pyrle Theatre, 232 S. Elm St., Greensboro. Tickets are $10-$48 depending on day and seating. For tickets and more information call 272-0160 or visit triadstage.org.

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