When “A Hatful of Rain” came out on Broadway in 1955, people were shocked by the subject matter. These days the problems of returning war veterans may no longer be surprising, but unfortunately they are still quite relevant.
“I’ve kind of had this play in the back of my mind for more than 20 years,” said Greg Naughton, who is directing the Berkshire Theatre Group production of “A Hatful of Rain” opening Saturday night at the Fitzpatrick Main Stage in Stockbridge, Mass.
“It was a big deal when it first came out, and while today’s audience won’t find the revelation as sensational as it did back then, we’re still dealing with drug addiction and PTSD. It is, sadly, very topical again.”
Johnny Pope, played by Tommy Schrider, is a veteran back from the Korean War who keeps his addiction to heroin secret from his wife, Celia, played by Megan Ketch. Greg Keller is Johnny’s brother, Polo, and Stephen Mendillo plays the brothers’ father.
‘A Hatful of Rain’
WHERE: Fitzpatrick Main Stage, 83 East Main St., Stockbridge, Mass.
WHEN: Previews 8 p.m. tonight and Friday, opens Saturday and runs through Aug. 30; performance times vary
HOW MUCH: $62-$42
MORE INFO: www.berkshiretheatre group.org, (413) 298-5576
“This play is best known as a scene-study staple for acting students, and there have been very few productions since it first came out in 1955,” said Naughton, who is a director/actor/musician married to five-time Tony Award nominee Kelli O’Hara.
“But it’s always been on my list of plays I’ve wanted to direct. I’ve always thought it’s a real strong and effective piece of drama. When I was pitching producers to try to get a production going, we had a reading and it went very well.”
The show was a moderate success when it debuted in 1955, earning Tony Award nominations for Best Actor for both Ben Gazzara as Johnny and Anthony Franciosa as Polo. Hollywood made a movie version that was also well-received by critics in 1957, with Franciosa earning an Oscar nomination for reprising his stage role of Polo. Don Murray played Johnny, Eva Marie Saint was Celia and Lloyd Nolan played the father.
“I wasn’t totally pleased with the movie version,” said Naughton.
“I’m guessing the studios felt they couldn’t make a movie about working-class Italians in 1955, so they emasculated the play a little bit, and put it in a nice, very decorated apartment and had Eva Marie Saint and Don Murray play the married couple. The performances were fine, but the play was a real socioeconomic story, and in making the movie I think something was lost in the translation.”
family of actors
Naughton grew up in Connecticut in a prominent acting family. His father is James Naughton, a popular television actor who also has two Tonys to his credit, and his uncle is David Naughton, another actor who starred in the 1981 Hollywood horror flick, “An American Werewolf in London.”
While he has also performed as a television, film and theater actor, these days Naughton is more concerned about stage directing and touring with the musical group Sweet Remains.
“My father worked at Williamstown [Theatre Festival] every summer for 10 years, so I feel like I sort of grew up in the Berkshires,” said Naughton. “And I don’t really consider myself an actor any more. I have kind of gravitated toward directing, and I’m actually more interested in my music these days.”
While Naughton is making his directorial debut at BTG, he has plenty of theater history in New York City, directing several off-Broadway shows and also serving as artistic director and founder of the Blue Light Theater Company.
He and his wife have been tempted by offers from the movie industry in California, but for now they’re staying put in the Northeast.
“My father was very good about making choices,” said Naughton. “He turned down a lot of television offers so that the family could be together in the Berkshires every summer. It was a great environment for us to grow up, and now that we have a young family, Kelli and I are thinking along those same lines.”
“A Hatful of Rain” was written for the stage by Michael V. Gazzo, a playwright who later became an actor and in 1974 had an Oscar-nominated role as Frankie Pantangeli in “The Godfather II.”
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]