Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
One of the iconic plays of the twentieth century, "Cat On a Hot Tin Roof" and its themes of avarice, mendacity, and sexual repression are still as relevant as ever.
Set in a mansion that oversees a cotton plantation in the 1950s, the play focuses on the family dynamics and drama that explode around a party celebrating the birthday of the family patriarch, Big Daddy (Harry Groener). Everyone but Big Daddy and his wife, Big Mama (Dawn Didawick), knows Big Daddy is dying, and as their sons and their wives volley for favor to get their part of the inheritance, other issues come bubbling to the fore, especially those between golden boy Brick (Ross Philips) and his wife, Maggie (Rebecca Mozo).
Brick has become an alcoholic since the death of his bestie, Skipper -- with whom he had a closer-than-close friendship -- and he won't touch his sexual, sensual wife. He was a football hero back in the day, but he's getting older, his body is getting softer, although he's still a stud, at least for the moment.
Maggie -- strong, vulnerable, beautiful, determined, magnetic -- wants their share of the estate and is afraid that, despite Brick being the clear favorite of the sons, they're going to lose out on the inheritance because they are childless (due to Brick's inability to perform) while Brick's brother, Gooper (Patrick Wenk-Wolff), and his wife, Mae (Jocelyn Towne), have five "no-neck monsters" with a sixth on the way.
She doesn't see that Big Daddy and Big Mama favor Brick over Gooper in almost offensive ways. (Just look at their names!) They only tolerate the grandchildren, and despite Gooper being a responsible part of society, Brick is idolized because of his looks and former athletic abilities.
Tennessee Williams' play won the Pulitzer Prize back in 1955 when it debuted and was nominated for six Oscars when it was transformed into a film three years later. The characters and situations are complex, the material dense and the dialogue complicated, creating challenges for the actors, but director Cameron Watson elicits strong, emotional performances from all of his thespians across the board.
Groener's Big Daddy is a force who steals the show. Mozo's Maggie is fierce and sexual and magnetic, a captivating presence who, with all of her sultriness and insecurity, is the center of the drama. Philips and Towne have the trickiest roles.
Brick is an internal, introverted character who cares about nothing and no one else, which can lead to a leaden, one-note performance, but Philips imbues even his quietest moments with torment and innuendo. Towne, playing Mae at eight or so months pregnant, has the arduous task of being both the comic relief and yet a real, nuanced person, which she pulls off with aplomb.
The new space for the Antaeus Theatre Company in Glendale (after knocking around North Hollywood for two decades) is an intimate place, which adds to the immediacy of this production. The set is just one bedroom, but it changes with each act (there are three), with the bar, settee, bed, vanity, radio and TV all seen from different perspectives each time, just as our perspectives of the characters change.
The theater troupe has a tradition known as "partner casting," meaning actors trade off in the roles, so each night will be different actors, but with Watson in command, each performance is likely to be assured. It's a meaty and challenging production to take on, especially for the first in a new space, but you'd never know it by the confidence on hand.
Williams' blistering material of sexual and social politics is brought to vivid life by a masterful director and talented cast.
"Cat On a Hot Tin Roof" runs through May 14 at the Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center, 110 East Broadway, Glendale, CA 91205. For tickets or information, call 818-506-1983 or visit Antaeus.org.