Berkshire Theatre Group: A 1950s drama, ‘A Hatful of Rain’, reaches out


STOCKBRIDGE -- "A Hatful of Rain" was a shocker when it opened on Broadway in 1955.

Michael V. Gazzo’s drama about the impact of heroin addiction on a returning Korean War veteran and his family stirred lively discussion about its depiction of the ravages of addiction.

Don Murray, Eva Marie Saint and Anthony Franciosa starred in a 1957 film directed by Fred Zinneman. Since then, "A Hatful of Rain" has faded from view. It’s had no major revivals and is scarcely, if ever, produced at regional or university theaters.

It survives chiefly as a staple of scene study classes in acting schools. "We’ve all done scenes. But I’ve never seen a production of it or heard of one," said actor-director Greg Naughton.

"The perception is that it is dated, particularly its take on heroin addiction."

So, two years ago, out of curiosity Naughton took the play off his book shelf and gave it a good read.

"It’s not just about heroin addiction," he said during a pre-rehearsal interview at Berkshire Theatre Group’s Lavan Center. "What we have is a play about a guy who comes home from Korea with PTSD, something they didn’t really understand then, who comes by his addiction as a result of having been treated with morphine during a lengthy hospital stay."

Naughton did a bit of editing of the play and mounted a workshop reading at Williamstown Theatre Festival.

Convinced after that reading that "A Hatful of Rain" is timely and worth doing, Naughton approached BTG CEO and artistic director Kate Maguire. She agreed. As a result, Naughton’s production -- his BTG directing debut -- opens tonight on BTG’s Fitzpatrick Main Stage where it is scheduled to run through Aug. 30.

The cast is headed by BTG veterans Tommy Schrider as the addicted veteran, Johnny Pope, and Greg Keller as his brother, Polo, who lives with Johnny and Johnny’s wife, Celia (Megan Ketch), who is trying to hold their fractured marriage together. Stephen Mendillo, plays Johnny’s father, whose presence in Johnny and Celia’s life only roils already troubled waters.

"At the time," Schrider said, joining Naughton, Keller, Ketch and Mendillo for the interview, "there was no mechanism for dealing with PTSD. These guys came home from Korea with an added stigma. It had a profound effect on their families, as we see in this play with a family that is dyfunctional to begin with. Johnny is a black hole."

"There’s no easy answer why someone becomes an addict," Ketch said. "With Johnny you have someone who can’t keep a job because he’s in a lot of pain. He has a father who can’t say ‘I love you.’ "

"Johnny lost his mother when he was 11," Mendillo said."There is no way of knowing how that scarred him."

Central to the play is the relationshop between Johnny and Polo. In essence, all they had in childhood was each orher, Naughton, Schrider and Keller agree.

"They are the parents to each other they’ve never had," Keller said. "Polo does the best he knows how to do for Johnny. He’s looking for love, looking to love. His father doesn’t seem to acknowledge his efforts."

"His character is drawn so realistically," Naughton said. "He loves and wants to protect Johnny. He really wants to take their father’s role -- be a caregiver."

At its heart, Naughton said, "A Hatful of Rain" is about a family trying to keep things together; to survive and move on in the face of formidable stresses.

"Johnny’s dream is very American," Schrider said; "to get in on the G.I. Bill, to get an education, get married, raise a family, make a life."

"They’re all trapped," Naughton said. "Celia works at a boring job. Polo is a bouncer in a whorehouse. The father is a failure. Johnny’s Army experience has led him to where he is now."

And yet, for all that bleakness, "this is such a rich play," Ketch said.

"I hope audiences will be taken by the dramatic intensity," said Naughton.

"At root," says Schrider, "this is a family on stage. Everything else is trappings."


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