Returning to Arlington has stirred memories of my high school, college, newlywed, and young mom years, including some I had long forgotten. Like the time I was the reluctant star (yes the Elizabeth Taylor role) in ACT’s production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
My young family lived in a tiny two-bedroom framed house with hardwood floors on College Street, just blocks from what is now UTA. My neighbor 2 doors away was Eric Manor, a friend from Arlington High who had been both a burly football lineman and a very sensitive and talented actor.
Eric auditioned for the role of Big Daddy (and was a shoe-in). The neighbor between us (name long forgotten) was an experienced actress, who had to be the choice for the title role of Maggie (the “Cat”). Just for kicks, I let Eric talk me into coming along and auditioning for the outrageous role of Sister Woman.
At the auditions, it was evident that the Director had brought with him some experienced talent – either from his home state of New York or his Master’s studies in Directing at TWC or both. The male lead of Brick and the Sister Woman role were claimed by a couple of these talents, so the audition for me was of no matter. I even waltzed my way through a reading for Maggie at the Director’s request.
Imagine my shock when later that night I was offered the part of Maggie. At early rehearsals it was clear that the decision had to do with body types – my neighbor was a tall, dark-haired, beautiful (but imposing) woman; the male lead was a much shorter, blonde, quiet actor – and my mousy brown hair and 115 lb 5’5” frame were better fits.
I don’t remember too much about the two-night run, except I felt I performed a credible Maggie, and the remainder of the strong cast delivered a good night of theater. What I do remember were the preparations and the aftermath.
I had long been a “hammy” kid, not at all shy of being the center of attention, a slight yearning for the spotlight, some limited performance experience. However the role of Maggie was a big step. After all, I was a proper Texas wife, and not used to putting my sensuality on the stage.
I got special help from friend and fellow cast mate, Eric (who told me to think and move like a cat) and the Director (who gave me special exercises to help me relax into the role). His biggest challenge though was my accent. “What was that?” he asked after a long monologue. “Whyyy thaats mah suuthern accent,” I exaggerated. “You don’t need a southern accent, he retorted. You have one!”
In retrospect, this small deviation from my norm was quite powerful. It was one of those early lessons that were hard to come by for Texas women, for women born of the 40s and coming into their own in the 60s. It was the first time I can remember accepting that I wasn’t merely a projection of my family, not merely a brainy, assertive young woman — but I was a sensual being and that was very OK.
— Jonnie Martin