KPBS AIRDATE: June 17, 2005
Maggie, the sultry kitten turned cat, feels like she’s on a hot tin roof, just trying to hang on. Her good-looking, good-for-nothing, former athlete husband won’t sleep with her. He’s becoming an alcoholic. She has no children. And his Big Daddy is dying. Everyone in this explosive Southern family is scrambling for the 28,000-acre plantation in Tennessee Williams’ Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” Brooding, boozing Brick is so disdainful of his wife, he actually tells her to jump off that metaphorical roof; she should take a lover, or just take a leap and land on her feet. Brick’s backstory is just one of the tantalizing threads that run through this intricate tapestry of family drama that’s seen too rarely onstage, and is known primarily in terms of the whitewashed Liz Taylor/Paul Newman movie of 1958, that was seriously censored by the stifling Hays Code of Conduct.
There is, as Big Daddy intones, “the smell of Mendacity” running through the piece, but there’s also the scent of sexuality, expressed and repressed. And the pungent aroma of family dysfunction, with all its rivalries, jealousies, antipathy and brutality. And there’s the reek of a decaying Southern society, rife with bigotry and hypocrisy. But the play is more universal than geographical, dealing as it does with greed and materialism, helplessness and guilt, fear of death and love of live, truth and illusion, and exposing lies in individuals, families and the world at large.
With his unerring sense of the dramatic and his trenchant textual analysis, Cygnet Theatre artistic director Sean Murray has plumbed the depths of character, emotion, sexuality and melancholy in the play. He’s created, and designed a steamy setting for this mesmerizing unmasking of truths. And his cast is flawless,
As Maggie the Cat, Jessica John gives her most dazzling performance. She is gorgeously feline and frustrated, seductive and love-starved. Francis Gercke is excellent as her detached and irresponsible husband, who with his leg cast and crutch, bare chest, highball and self-disgust, handsomely embodies “the charm of the defeated.” His second act interaction with his Big Daddy, the magnificently crotchety, coarse and penetrating Jim Chovick, is a breath-holding scene of dramatic tension. As Big Mama, Sandra Ellis-Troy is deliciously cloying and vicious. Tom Stephenson and Melissa Fernandes are perfect as the avaricious Gooper and Mae, Big Daddy’s ambitious but neglected first-born son and his shrewish, perpetually fertile wife. Eric Lotze’s lighting design, Michael Dondanville’s costumes and M. Scott Grabau’s sound are first-rate. And the entire production is thrilling, moving, wrenching experience. It’s undoubtedly one of the peak productions of this or any year.
©2005 Patté Productions Inc.