A Hatful of Rain previews are July 17, 18, 19, 24.Â Opening weekend: Sat., July 25 at 8 pm and Sun. July 26 at 7 pm.Â Performances continue Fri.-Sat., 8 pm; Sun., 7 pm; through Aug. 23. Tickets: $25; students: $15. Skylight Theatre, 1816 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles. 310.358.9936 or katselastheatre.org
Dean Kreyling first became aware of the 1956 play A Hatful of Rain two years ago when an actor friend said he was appearing in a revival at a theatre in San Fernando Valley. “I had never seen it before and I got curious,” Kreyling recalls. “So, I got a copy of it and read it. I loved the play so much I was frightened to go see my friend in it. I was afraid I’d be disillusioned.”
Scripted by Michael V. Gazzo, it was one of the earliest plays after World War II to address substance abuse and its destructive effect on personal relationships. Two of the original Broadway cast members, Anthony Franciosa and Henry Silva, recreated their roles in the 1957 film version, directed by Fred Zinneman.Â Despite the great critical acclaim he received for penning A Hatful of Rain and co-writing the screenplay for the Elvis Presley vehicle, King Creole in 1958, Gazzo quit writing in favor of stage acting in New York. In 1974, Gazzo re-emerged as a film character actor, receiving an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Frankie Pentageli in The Godfather II.
A Hatful of Rain, which opens July 25 at the Skylight Theatre, was an outgrowth of the ongoing theatrical classwork done at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, originally founded by the late Milton Katselas. “Last year, two of the cast members, Alicia Klein and Tommy Villafranca, came to me and presented the opening scene of the play during a directing class,” says Kreyling. “They were hoping the school theatre company would like the work well enough to develop it into a full production.
“I started working with them over the next couple of months and then we brought it to Milton.Â He liked what we were doing and said, ‘Do whatever you want with it.’ After Milton’s passing, the company’s artistic director, Gary Grossman, announced we would be launching a full season of plays as the Katselas Theatre Company and that Hatful would definitely be part of this inaugural season.”
Kreyling has studied both acting and directing at the Beverly Hills Playhouse. His directorial credits include Jerry and Tom, Savage in Limbo and Beirut for the New York stage. In Los Angeles, Kreyling has staged Signs and Arrows and Forgiveness as part of Camelot Artists New Voices original one-act festival. Acting credits include The L-Word, My Best Friend’s Girl and was last seen on the Sci Fi Channel starring in the feature film 100 Million B.C.
“For me, a great deal of the pleasure I have received in directing A Hatful of Rain has come from the research,” Kreyling affirms. “I wanted to put my stamp as a director onto the play; to do that, I really studied the work to try to get into the head of Gazzo when he was writing it. We live in a far different world than Gazzo did. Heroin addiction is not a horrific concept to us today. Substance abuse is so rampant it has lost its ability to shock. What I have emphasized is Gazzo’s depiction of the destruction of the middle class as the central character Johnny’s addiction so negatively affects every member of his family. The viability of the family and its ability to cope is what’s at stake.”
Kreyling readily admits he put his cast through a lot of discussions in order to generate the proper empathy for Gazzo’s characters. “When we began the rehearsal process, we did a first read and then we talked about the play. At the next rehearsal, we did another read and then we began to dissect what was happening in each scene, not only to each character but to the family dynamic as it attempts to adapt to the new information and new situations that occur.
“So, at the climactic moment when Johnny reveals the full terror and pain he is going through during the throes of his withdrawal, his family sees the horror of it with the eyes of people who have no understanding of what is happening. They only know it terrifies them. Gazzo was underscoring a whole different society than we live in today and I am really proud of how my cast has found the essence of this really important play.”
A Hatful of Rain is double-cast and includes Joseph Cardinale, Vanessa Celso, David Crane, Chris Devlin, Gadi Erel, Tania Gonzalez, Alicia Klein, Aaron Leddick, James Lyons, Ludwig Manukian, Eddie Navarro, Jeremy Radin, Stephanie Thompson and Tommy Villafranca.
Feature Image of actors Ludwig Manukian, Alicia Klein and director Dean Kreyling; story image of actors Gadi Erel, Chris Devlin and Dean Kreyling. All images by Ed Krieger.