As John Lacy readied to step onstage for the second act of Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” he was already on edge, knowing that fellow actor Anton Troy was angry about being heckled. Then a producer whispered a warning in Lacy’s ear: “This is the drunkest audience we’ve ever had.”
Indeed the heckler continued, shouting boos from the audience at the Repertory East Playhouse in Santa Clarita, California.
Then during an emotional, tense scene featuring Lacy opposite Troy — who was playing Brick, a gay character — the heckler reportedly shouted, “Because he’s a f*g.”
At that point Lacy — fittingly playing Big Daddy — broke from character: “I just said, ‘What did you say, motherf***er?'” he recalled to Playbill.
Then the longtime actor left the stage, went into the audience, confronted the heckler who “stood proudly to stare at me with a stupid grin on his face,” Lacy told Playbill, and pushed him to the ground.
Then, someone from the audience — “this enormous 6’5”, 280-pound filmmaker named Tim Sullivan, who happened to be gay and was not at all happy with what was happening,” Lacy added — grabbed the heckler and carried him out of the theater.
“I physically did what everybody else wanted done,” Sullivan told the Santa Clarita Valley Signal. “It’s nice to see that Tennessee Williams is still causing sparks.”
Sheriff’s deputies responded to the scene, Deputy Josh Dubin told the Signal, but the heckler and his companion were gone.
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“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 ‘f*g’ in front of [the audience], it’s not f***ing acceptable.”
Lacy then asked the audience members if they wanted Saturday night’s show to go on, and they did — giving a standing ovation at the end, The Wrap reported.
But the drama doesn’t end there.
After the play was over, the producers fired Lacy for his actions. Then Troy, in solidarity with Lacy, quit the show. So the show, having lost two lead actors, canceled the rest of the production.
Reaction from some Hollywood corners has been pointed.
After Eric Vespe of Ain’t It Cool News tweeted: “Karma means this guy is going to land a giant summer blockbuster or superhero role now, right?”
The Wrap noted the response of “X-Men” star Shawn Ashmore: “I hope so.”
Anson Mount of “Hell on Wheels” weighed in on Twitter: “I would have done the same damn thing. Shame on Repertory East and HUZZAH for John Lacy.”
I would have done the same damn thing. Shame on Repertory East and HUZZAH for John Lacy. http://t.co/OOQ3dW6zMz
— Anson Mount (@ansonmount) June 3, 2014
“I will not support homophobia or an establishment that doesn’t support its talent,” Troy wrote on Facebook. “Hate in any form is not something I choose to subscribe to. John is a seasoned professional and an honorable man. It should never escalate to a point where the talent has to handle an unruly drunk in the audience themselves regardless of the outcome. Producers dropped the ball, the fish stinks from the head on down.”
But not all of the play’s cast members liked how things went down.
“I, unlike most of you, am NOT proud to be an actor today,” Missy Kaye wrote on Facebook, according to The Wrap. “By you jumping off the stage and putting your hands on this guy put the whole theatre in jeopardy, cast and audience, and to me that is unforgivable.” Kaye emphasized that she doesn’t support anti-gay outbursts or behavior of any sort.
Emily E. Low, who played the female lead, said things should have been handled differently.
“As actors we must take the positive audience responses with the negative,” she added to the Facebook thread, The Wrap reported. “It’s not always about cheers and standing ovations.”
“And, the truth is, Brick is, after all, a gay man,” Low observed. “The material is strong, and it elicits strong responses from an audience, different every night.”
The playhouse management said in a statement that it “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.”
For Lacy, who’s been married for 20 years and has three sons, there’s no question what he’d do if the situation presented itself again.
“Loving your fellow man is what we’re here to do,” he told KCAL-TV. “I’d do it again.”