John Lacy, who played Big Daddy in the Repertory East Playhouse production of the Williams classic — which opened in Old Town Newhall, CA, May 16 under the direction of Brad Sergi — took action when an audience member called co-star Anton Troy a "fag."
During intermission, Lacy explained to Playbill.com, "My young co-star Anton Troy, who's playing Brick, came into the dressing room, and he was furious. He said someone was bullying him, and I couldn't wrap my head around it because I was in the beginning of my emotional prep for the second act, which [has] Big Daddy's big scenes… I did my best to console him and said, 'Listen, man, channel it into your performance. Take whatever anger you got right now towards that audience member and use it. That's all you can do, man. Let's get out there and have a great second act. We have to trust each other that we can pull together and make it work.'
"Just as I'm about to step on stage, the producer who was in the house that night — his name is Mikee Schwinn [who produced alongside REP executive director Ovington Michael Owston] — whispers in my ear, 'This is the drunkest audience we've ever had.' So now I've got a co-star who is furious that he's being heckled, and my producer has just warned me that the audience is inebriated, or obviously a fraction of the audience."
Boos from the heckler in the audience continued during the second act, and following an exchange between the characters of Brick and Big Daddy, the audience member responded, "Because he's a fag."
Lacy explained, "Brick tried to respond, and he said it again. I just said, 'What did you say, motherf*cker?' … I went through our fake stage door, took off my vest, went into the audience — as he stood proudly to stare at me with a stupid grin on his face — [and] I pushed him, and he was drunk, so he easily just collapsed… I knew better than to start throwing punches. I had made my point. I silenced the heckler, and thankfully, one of the audience members — this enormous 6'5'', 280-lb. filmmaker named Tim Sullivan, who happened to be gay and was not at all happy with what was happening — reached over and picked this guy up by his shirt collar and literally carried him out of the theatre." Lacy asked the audience if they'd like to see the show continue, and the cast picked up from where they left off in the story.
Following the completed performance, Schwinn and Owston fired Lacy for his actions, and Troy — defending his co-star — decided to quit the show.
"Some people are very quick to just go to the 'Violence is Not the Answer' card, and that's just not who I am. I've stood up to bullies my whole life," Lacy said. "When I hear or see something that's unacceptable — I'm not the kind of person to go up and punch someone in the face — but I will get in your face, and if I need to put my hands on you to let you know that I don't appreciate what is unacceptable, you are going to feel my physical force. And that's who I am, and I'll never change. I'm not a violent person. I stand up to homophobes, racists, people who are insulting my wife, anyone who threatens my children…
"Of course, I could have stopped and said, 'Could we have the house lights on, please? I'd like this gentleman removed.' But when you call my fellow actor a 'fag' in front of [the audience], it's not f*cking acceptable."
A press release from the theatre was posted to their website June 2 that read, "Due to unforeseen circumstances, the run of the Tennessee Williams' drama Cat On A Hot Tin Roof at the Repertory East Playhouse in Newhall has been suspended and the show will not be completing its projected performance schedule. The show was originally scheduled to end June 14, however, an incident during the May 31 performance has resulted in cast members leaving the show with no time to adequately re-cast their parts and provide the quality theater experience patrons have come to expect from the REP.
"The management of the REP regrets that this situation was not brought to their attention sooner and would like to assure future audiences that disruptive behavior, including disparaging remarks from the audience, incidents of bullying or hate speech, and racial, discriminatory or homophobic utterances, will not be tolerated and offending parties will be asked to leave the theater."
Owston said in a statement, "We are committed to provide groundbreaking subject matter and professional performances to our audiences. We are extremely sorry that our patrons experienced this disruption and will do our best to make it up to those holding reservations for cancelled performances."
Representatives at the theatre have not yet responded to Playbill.com's request for comment.