Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Some may argue over which make up Tennessee Williams' most famous works, but few would not put Cat on a Hot Tin Roof among the top five.  Little wonder then it has seen at least four revivals in the last twelve months, two of them native to Los Angeles!

This specific production probably makes for the most straightforward one, a direct enacting of the script no doubt close to the original Broadway one in many ways.  Now classical theatre (and Williams certainly counts as modern classics) often have a problem, with uneven casts.  The leads usually end up good, but weaker actors often fill up smaller roles.  Not always, of course.  For example, Theatre68's current production refreshingly has a uniform--and skilled--level of ability, bringing all the dramatis personae to life.

Credit: Doren Sorell
Seen by many as the title character, Maggie aka "Maggie the Cat" (Ciarra Siller) begins the play visiting her husband Brick's (Dennis Hadley) bedroom in the midst of a birthday celebration for her vastly wealthy father-in-law, Big Daddy (Charles Hoyes). The basics of the family situation emerge soon enough.  Brick broke his foot the night before while drunk.  He's been drinking steadily for a long while now, ever seeking that "click" in his head that means he's at peace with a world he finds all but unbearable.  Maggie loves him, desires him despite--to some degree because--of his continued benign indifference to her.  It all has to do with the death of Brick's best friend...

Meanwhile, Big Daddy has been told he has a spastic colon after exhaustive tests.  In fact his Doctor (Alan E. Ramos) has lied to both him and his wife Big Momma (Katie Zeiner). The man has cancer.  Inoperable.  Soon the pain will grow truly terrible to endure, and so he has brought morphine.

Credit: Doren Sorell
Interestingly, most productions focus far more on Brick's relationship with his wife, and approach the mystery of just what was the nature of his relationship with Skipper? Clearly, this last is one of the abiding questions.  Yet this production goes in a different direction, a pretty fascinating one.  Here, the focus remains throughout on the relationship between Brick and his father.  These two give the best performances in the show (although everyone does at good job overall), and we can here at least see why Brick is the favorite.  He comes across as not a spoiled fool, but someone who fundamentally does not feel comfortable in this world.  His seeming success at even living here comes across as an act of courage, although the reserves of such are draining fast.  "Mendacity" may be the most famous line in the play, a single word signaling all the fakery, all the pretense of this world.  One even gets a sense that Big Daddy, whether he knows it or not, is approaching the same point.

Credit: Doren Sorell
As a result, one does feel some real sympathy for Gooper (Kyle Gundlach), Brick's elder brother clearly hurting deeply over his parents' favoritism.  By the standards of most, he counts as a self-made success!  A very successful lawyer, with a deeply loyal wife Mae (Skyler Maryl Patton), Gooper still comes across as weaker, lesser than Brick or Big Daddy, or even their wives.  Why?  Because he accepts the mendacity, does not question it. His attempts to earn some respect comes across as fueled not by greed but rage.  Maggie seems closer to her husband and Big Daddy, in that she sees some basic hard truths and longs to be honest.  Ironic, then, her success in the story depends on telling a lie, on Brick actually agreeing to the lie, and maybe even entering into a conspiracy to make the lie a truth?

Mr. Williams did understand his irony, did he not?

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof plays Thursdays and Fridays at 7pm until March 30, 2018 at Theatre68, 5112 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood CA 91601,

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