To kick off the 2017˗2018 season, Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC) Artistic Director Michael Kahn revisits the ambiguous and darkly comic world of playwright Harold Pinter. The program of two one-act plays, at STC’s Lansburgh Theatre through October 29, explores the complexities of marriage and infidelity.
Pinter wrote The Collection and The Lover early in his Nobel Prize-winning, 50-year career, and both contain Pinter’s signature silences and weighty pauses – as well as the “angry young man” character he’s known for. The Collection also introduces audiences to a first-time actress who’s clearly destined to be a star – Dante’s Beatrice, a.k.a. Sweet Bea – a small, long-haired white cat.
“Michael Kahn was very keen to get a Persian,” says STC Publicist Amy Hughes, “because that was the cat written into the play.”
To find the perfect feline, a call went out on social media and through email, and several cats (eh-hem, owners) responded. Staff had a great time “auditioning” each one, but Sweet Bea was the obvious choice. For the audition, the fluffy eight-year-old kitty met Lisa Dwan, the actress playing Stella.
“They bonded really nicely,” says Sweet Bea’s mom, Susan Galbraith.
The story follows a young marriage in jeopardy, and Stella’s husband Bill is determined to confront the man he believes to be his wife’s lover. As Stella’s furry companion, the cat accompanies her human while the drama unfolds, adding a touch of glamour while sitting regally on a velvet sofa.
“Harold Pinter has a certain understanding of women and their potential menace,” Galbraith explains.
When I met Sweet Bea in her dressing room, she made quite an impression. Her wide eyes and soft, flowing fur paired with the irritated flick of her tail and a low growl emitted (after being held too long) certainly seem to fit the character requirements. The cat has participated in rehearsals and will appear onstage in every performance of the play.
“Michael Kahn has always seemed quite happy with [her],” Galbraith says.
While Sweet Bea may look like she comes from the world of commercial modeling, her life has not been easy.
“This is a rags-to-riches story,” Hughes says.
Sweet Bea is a rescue “found down the spout, in a drain [with] no fur,” Galbraith recalls. “She was left to starve, so she was stunted. No one wanted her. They said, ‘Please take this cat; she’s probably not even going to survive.’”
Her petite stature makes Sweet Bea a great fit for the play, as she easily passes for a kitten. According to Galbraith, the feline star has always wanted to embody a Pinter woman, and is full of alluring mystery.
“She credits her rough childhood, seduced and then abandoned, for the truthfulness she hopes audiences will appreciate.”
Galbraith has big ambitions for the tiny white ball of fluff, adding, “She would like to be considered for the evil cat role in any James Bond remake.”
And, always a professional, “She wants to thank Michael Kahn for first discovering her talent, and her wranglers, Susan and Duane.”
All joking aside, the decision to incorporate an animal into a stage play is bold, and bolder yet is the director’s choice to ensure the playwright’s instructions are followed literally by casting a live cat. Sweet Bea is by all accounts rising to the challenge.
Although, Galbraith says, “She’s becoming a bit of a diva.”
The Lover and The Collection run through October 29 at STC’s Lansburgh Theatre. Tickets start at $59. Learn more at www.shakespearetheatre.org.
STC’s Lansburgh Theatre: 450 7th St. NW, DC; 202-547-1122; www.shakespearetheatre.org