CHICAGO
10/06/2011 02:23 pm ET | Updated Jan 30, 2012

Can They Kick It? 'Pussy On The House' Spoofs Tennessee Williams (VIDEO)

Tennessee Williams' 1955 play "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" packs a whole lot of passion and drama into its Pulitzer-winning dialogue -- so it should come as no surprise that its content has inspired any number of homages including, of course, a 1958 film that was pretty spectacular in its own right.

But with Hell in a Handbag Production's "Pussy on the House," playing through Sunday, Oct. 30 at the Athenaeum Theatre, the already boisterous classic play cranks up the volume on its camp appeal. The play, penned by Ryan Landry and directed by Matthew Gunnels, has met with praise from Time Out Chicago, whose Emily Gordon said, "Williams’s portentous lines, when spoken with a cocked eyebrow and a stuffed bust, serve perfectly as high camp all by themselves." But of course, the addition of a drag queen or two couldn't hurt.

Although the play has been well-received by critics, high-quality theatre is not cheap to produce -- especially these days -- and Hell in a Handbag has launched a Kickstarter campaign, aptly titled "Feed the Kitty!" to help support their work.

Kicking off our "Can They Kick It?" series, HuffPost Chicago spoke with Hell in a Handbag's artistic director David Cerda about his company's latest offering.

Tell me what attracted you to this play, which is a pretty direct riff off of the Tennessee Williams classic? What was your initial reaction to hearing about or seeing it?
[Handbag ensemble member] Ed Jones and I saw it in Boston in the spring of this year and my friend Ryan Landry wrote it. I had heard that he had done the show in 2004 and it won all of these awards in Boston so, when we saw it, it blew us away. We just thought that we have to do this.

My friend Matt Gunnels loves Tennessee Williams and he directed "Poseidon" for us. He was recently diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer and because "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" talks about cancer and it's funny and touching at the same time, I thought it might be a good time for Matt to do it. We bent over backwards to make it work and added it to our season at the last minute, scraping all of our pennies together.

Tell me about the role you play in this production.
I'm Mae, the evil sister-in-law that is trying to get the family's money for her husband Gooper. Honey West is also in it. In the original play, it was just Big Mama and Big Daddy, but here, Big Mama is Big Daddy and Sukie is Big Mama. Honey West is a big, butch dyke as Big Mama. She has huge, Elvis, kind of Johnny Cash hair and wears a western suit with cowboy boots. She's a force to be reckoned with.

The show opened last week. How have audiences reacted?
It's going really well. A lot of people who come to it are very surprised, because they expect big, over-the-top camp and hilarity with us and just really general silliness. But though this is a parody and it's also an homage to "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," the tender moments are still there. I think myself and Ed Jones are the comic relief. A lot of people come up to me and say they were very surprised that certain things brought them to tears and there are very poignant stories. We're having a really good time with it.

And tell me about the decision to turn to Kickstarter. Had the company used it before?
It was something I wanted to look into because I saw that a lot of friends were using it, like About Face and Bailiwick. I like the idea of people getting different reward levels depending on how much you donate. And you have to submit a video. We did one very reflective of Hell in a Handbag -- it wasn't super serious, but it was just funny and to the point. So far, we're doing good. We broke the halfway point.

What's your message for folks considering seeing the show or donating to help the production along?
I tell people that they should support the Kickstarter because we're the kind of theatre company where we don't get a lot of grants. We're camp and we're parody and we have a very niche audience. There's nobody in Chicago that does the kind of theatre we do. Some people don't see value in what we do because we don't help the community in typical ways. So I tell people that if they want to continue to see the kinds of theatre we do, they need to donate because it is harder now than it ever has been. We used to make money on these shows and now we're lucky if we break even. There's no other way to supplement our expenses except for with donations. You have to put your money where your mouth is.

I tell people to see the show because it's amazing. There is not a weak link in the cast. It's a really tightly written, wonderfully acted show and everybody in it is very committed to it and having a blast. I think it shows on stage.

And finally, your company is approaching its 10th anniversary next year. Is that incredible to you?
Considering how small we are and the kind of company we are, to be together this long is pretty amazing. We have some core original ensemble members still. I feel like I have to do what I do because nobody else is doing it. I have to carry the camp torch for all the young children of the city. I have to teach the young boys how to wear wigs and heels and imitate dead movie stars.

Hell in a Handbag's "Feed the Kitty" Kickstarter lasts through Saturday, Oct. 22 and the show runs through Oct. 30. As of this week, the company was just over halfway to their goal of raising $3,000. Click here to learn more about the production or purchase tickets.

Do you have a Chicago-based Kickstarter project that we should feature in "Can They Kick It?"? Email chicago@huffingtonpost.com and tell us all about it!

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