Someday Productions LLC and Pillow Talking are pleased to present the following review of CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF at The Brookfield Theatre for the Arts
Through March 18th
Warning: Major compliment coming – and it’s one that I mean with all sincerity. The Brookfield Theatre for the Arts’ (TBTA) production of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof has thrown some major shade on The Great White Way!
Several years ago my husband/co-reviewer and I were fortunate to catch silver screen starlet Scarlett Johansson’s closing weekend of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof on Broadway – it was my inaugural occasion to see the fabulous show on the boards and I was thrilled to have had the opportunity to breathe the same air as Johansson as the iconic Maggie the Cat. But an overall lackluster production, replete with audio issues, boring staging, slow pacing, and an intrusive set design left me frustrated and yearning for Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman (who starred in the 1958 film version) or others at least one tenth as dazzling as they. (In Johansson’s defense, she was dwarfed by the over-the-top opulence of the set, most notably a massive, front-and-center bed; and the majority of her lines were lost to the audio problems.) Then, four years later we received an invitation to TBTA – and my spirit now has been renewed. Their fiercely explosive Cat on a Hot Tin Roof exceeded all expectations!
Although it’s a storyline that likely needs little introduction, it’s Big Daddy Pollitt’s 65th birthday and the relatives have descended upon the sweltering southern homestead looking to swoop down on the dying plantation owner’s millions like vultures on carrion. Desperately longing Margaret “Maggie” Pollitt (a resplendent and perfectly vulnerable Anna Fagan) is on the outs with her bourbon-swilling, largely lethargic, ex-athlete husband Brick (played with just the right touch of repressed emotion by James Wilding). With the couple unable to bear a child and growing concern about Brick’s excessive imbibing, the misogynistic, mendacious Big Daddy (the charismatic Will Jeffries truly embodies this larger-than-life role) may just have to turn over the lavish plantation to his least favorite son Gooper (played to perfection by Christopher Cooney). A scheming attorney married to an equally as machinating and very fertile Mae a.k.a. Sister Woman (Anya Caravella is pure bitchy delight in her faux pregnant belly), the two have it all figured out – get Big Daddy’s money and squeeze out the barren Maggie and Brick, all the while forcing their “no neck monsters” (their ill-behaved brood) on every unwilling victim at the celebration. And lest anyone forget about the brash and meddlesome Big Mama (a wonderful Monica O’Brien) who’s in denial of just about everything, including her empty marriage and the venom her husband regularly spews right in her face.
The chemistry among TBTA’s Cat’s characters is truly remarkable. At times it almost is easy to forget they are merely actors on a stage. And the flawlessly choreographed “fight” scenes are outstanding – I wondered how no one actually got hurt! Fagan’s Maggie flew across the stage with the litheness and agility of a feline. The real beauty of this production was extracted by the skilled hand of director Jeanine A. DeFalco who allowed the strength of her talented cast to effortlessly carry the poignant and powerful drama. Each delivered a beautifully nuanced theatrical execution which drew in the audience like a voyeur through a keyhole. Balanced with a well-conceived and simply-fashioned set design by Alexander Kulcsar, there were just the right touches necessary to evoke time and place, without intruding on the luminous characterizations or Williams’ near-poetic dialogue.
Terrific performances also are given by Francis A. Daley as Doctor Baugh and Jeffrey Rossman as Reverend Tooker, two others who are present and accounted for at Big Daddy’s festivities. Kate Valiska and Morgana Kate Watson are excellent as Servants 1 and 2 and at times add comical flashes to the heavy moments at the affluent estate.
In addition, shout outs must go to Molly Farrell-Savage for exceptional costume design, Jon Curns for lighting design, DeFalco for sound design, and the entire rest of the production crew including producers Bob Lane and Andrew Okell.
Touching on myriad themes including infidelity and infertility; masculinity, homosexuality, and homophobia; familial relationships, greed, mendacity and false personas, TBTA’s production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is scorching, masterfully reaching into the depths of Williams’ words and meaning and giving it a living, breathing humanness on the stage. We are so very fortunate never to have to go far to experience incredible local theatre. Bravo TBTA and thank you for a spectacular evening!
There ain’t nothin’ more powerful than the odor of mendacity…You can smell it. It smells like death.
–Tennessee Williams, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Two of my favorite plays of all time both are written by Tennessee Williams: Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Ever since the 1960s when I saw the 1958 film version on TV with Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman, and Burl Ives, I was hooked like a catfish and thereafter endeavored to see these two plays wherever and whenever possible – whether it be a revival on Broadway or someone’s neighborhood backyard theatre. I can’t really say how many times I have seen Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; most of the productions have melded into one giant synaptic memory ganglion in my brain. I can say that there were three memorable performances that standout: the 1958 film version, the 1990 Broadway revival starring Kathleen Turner and Charles Durning, and the recent 2013 Broadway revival starring Scarlett Johansson. I must admit that the latter version is memorable, at least for me, for its flaws rather than its benefits. While I thought Ms. Johansson did a credible job as Maggie the Cat, I did not feel she stacked up (no pun intended) to either Elizabeth Taylor or Kathleen Turner. The rest of the cast was forgettable; the pacing was off; the set design was distracting, and there were problems with the audio.
After seeing The Brookfield Theatre for the Arts’ (TBTA) production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, I am thrilled to say that I can now add it to my list of memorable standouts – in a good way. I do not think I have ever said this before in a review or just in cocktail chit-chat about local or regional theatre, but I enjoyed TBTA’s production better than Broadway’s 2013 revival with Scarlett Johansson. (I guess I can rule out working with Ms. Johansson in the future after this review.) But the truth must be told and will set me free.
TBTA’s production is a gripping, intense, stellar version of Tennessee Williams’ play. The play’s wonderful pacing and staging have got to be attributable to the masterful direction by Jeanine A. DeFalco. Ms. DeFalco, who has been directing plays regionally and locally since 1997, has two master’s degrees (one in Dramatic Literature) and a PhD (and I thought I was a professional student with a J.D. and an LLM degree). Through her astute direction, she was able to elicit and translate to a modern audience all of the significant themes of Williams’ masterpiece including avarice, sexual repression, guilt and, above all, the mendacity that we’ve come to accept as part of our daily lives.
Ms. DeFalco also must be credited for assembling a great cast of highly talented actors. Let’s face it, Maggie the Cat is an iconic character and actresses like Elizabeth Taylor, Kathleen Turner, and Scarlett Johansson all have been chosen for their ability to portray a complex mix of sensuality, vulnerability, snarkiness, and even a certain amount of naivete. Anna Fagan, a relative newcomer to theatre, is simply terrific as Maggie, embodying as well as portraying all of the aforementioned qualities. It takes a big actor to play Big Daddy and Will Jeffries is just the man and the actor who can do it. Burl Ives set the standard for me as the perfect Big Daddy. Even though Charles Durning won a Tony Award for his performance as Big Daddy, I just felt he was not “BIG” enough. Mr. Jeffries leans more towards the classic Ives portrayal, but injects just the right amount of creativity and individuality to make the character his own. In other words, he made a great Big Daddy. With eyes as blue as those of Paul Newman’s, James Wilding was spot-on as the athletic and handsome, but fatally flawed Brick. Despite being in a realistic leg cast, Mr. Wilding gave an incredibly physical performance, wielding his crutch around the stage better than Darth Vader’s light saber duel in some of the best staged fight choreography I’ve seen in a long while.
It is easy in certain productions of Cat in a Hot Tin Roof for the main characters above to overshadow a weaker cast. Not so here. The entire cast works to support the play as an effective piece of theatre. Monica O’Brien holds her own with Mr. Jeffries as Big Mama. Christopher Cooney (Gooper) and Anya Caravella (Mae) are devilishly detestable as the greedy fertility factory with five screaming kids and one on the way. (Pillow Talking has enjoyed Mr. Cooney’s past performances in Sight Unseen and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.) Rounding out the supporting cast, are the credible portrayals by Jeff Rossman as Rev. Tooker and Francis A. Daley as Doctor Baugh. It is the attention to detail that often makes the difference between good theatre and great theatre. Special nods must go to both Morgana Kate Watson and Kate Valiska as the Servants. Although relatively small parts, their body language (including facial grimaces and rolling the eyes at the oft times opulence and superficiality (and mendacity) of their employers give credence to the play’s overall authenticity.
If you did not know it by now, this is a rave and you are well advised to see TBTA’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof before Maggie jumps off!