Friday, Jun 23, 2017

Cat On a Hot Tin Roof (2010)

Photo by Jenny Graham

Photo by Jenny Graham

You know you’ve seen something special when Company members are snuffling emotionally in the row behind you. The stereotype of comedians is for them to nod at another comedian’s act and say “that was funny” without actually laughing. I’ve seen actors leave a powerful, moving show giving high fives and chatting excitedly about the performances. So, the fact that the cast of this year’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof got to their fellow actors should tell you a lot.

The play is largely a character-driven piece – there’s a plot, but the external story doesn’t actually move much and the play is essentially in real-time. Maggie (a sublime Stephanie Beatriz) comes from a hard-scrabble childhood but is now married to Brick (the what’s-left-to-say Danforth Comins), a drunken, washed-up athlete who has forsworn a budding career as a television sports announcer in favor of the bottle; Brick is the favorite son of a wealthy plantation owner who may or may not be dying soon. The action, then, revolves around the machinations of Big Daddy’s sons (Brick and his brother Gooper, the latter played with quiet frustration by Rex Young) and their wives (Maggie and Mae, respectively, the latter played by Kate Mulligan with scene-stealing brio) to secure the prime inheritance share from their father. When they aren’t digging at each other, they mostly turn on themselves.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is often seen as Maggie’s play, and she does indeed book-end the show with powerful, affecting speeches, but within the play everything is dominated by Big Daddy, here played by Michael Winters. Even when he’s not on stage, everyone is talking about him, how he feels, what he thinks… Fortunately, Mr. Winters is more than up to the task of owning the stage when he’s present, even in the quiet moments of the play’s pivotal middle section, an attempted heart-to-heart with Brick. A modern pater familias, he defines the entire family and does so with relish, setting his wife, Big Mama (Catherine E. Coulson, reminding me perfectly of the aging southern belles I knew as “Miss so-and-so” when I was growing up in the deep South), down viciously when he decides she’s gone too far in her own maneuvering and clearly enjoying every moment of it.

When I saw Christopher Liam Moore’s Dead Man’s Cell Phone last year, I was excited and a bit relieved by the quality of the production. Not knowing Mr. Moore or Mr. Rauch I was, I admit, a teeny bit concerned at the possibility of nepotism giving him the “in,” but he smashed that fear with a confidently-produced show that I loved. WithCat, I’m convinced he’s more good than lucky. This is a skillfully shaped production, including an effective collaboration with his designers (Scenic: Christopher Acebo, Costumes: Alex Jaeger, Lighting: Christopher Akerlind, Sound: Andre Pluess) that offers nice touches of artistry without getting in the way of Tennessee Williams’ poetry. If you can manage to keep your focus from getting soaked into the primary action, watch the various passers-by out by the “windows” throughout the play.

In the end, the best that can be said is that the Company has done its best in service to a justifiably classic piece of American theater, allowing it to speak to the audience with a clear, uncompromising voice. Prepare to snuffle