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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 1, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 18
'Good Kitty!' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is excellent!
Arts & Entertainment
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'Good Kitty!' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is excellent!

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF
ACT THEATRE
Through May 17


Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is perhaps the superlative American drama. Written by Tennessee Williams, arguably the greatest American playwright ever to grace Broadway, the play was considered one of the author's personal favorites. Telling the story of sex, betrayal, family obligations, and, of course, deceit, the play caused great controversy at its inaugural debut and went on to win the 1955 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. ACT Theatre has brought this important classic back to Seattle.

Set on a vast plantation in Mississippi the story revolves around a birthday party for the Pollitt's family patriarch, Big Daddy. Despite the news of a clean bill of health, the two sons (Goober and Brick) as well as their spouses (Mae and Maggie - respectively) know that Big Daddy is dying of cancer. The family argues about inheritances for Goober and Mae's children, and the suspicions about why Maggie and Brick aren't having sexual relations any longer. Brick, the ex-football hero, turns away from his wife to seek solace in alcohol ever since his close friend Skipper committed suicide under dubious circumstances. What follows is the slow revelation of family secrets unfolding, hidden desires, and the epitome of Southern circumvention to major life issues that makes Tennessee Williams such an incredible staple in American writing.

The play is riveting and that's largely due to the excellent cast. Morgan Rowe plays Goober's wife Mae. Perpetually pregnant (and with five kids already) she is the typical Southern mother trying to be saccharine sweet in public while scheming with her husband to get control of Big Daddy's estate. She moves from sweet to sour easily and holds her own on the stage as a presence in the family feuding. Marianne Owen plays the matriarch of the Pollitt family, Big Mama, and does so in a strong way. Her character is gooselike with her fluttering and not wanting to deal with reality, but in the end it is Big Mama who stands up for what is her husband's legacy. Ms. Owen shows her character's ability to toss aside the fluff when strength is needed. Brandon O'Neill plays Brick, the tormented football hero. His quiet brooding works very well for this character and he silently exhibits his strong presence on stage. He's attentive to the role showing conflict of inner turbulence and the pressures of being seen as the family's 'golden boy.' He is literally the sun that pulls everyone else into his orbit, and while not the largest speaking role in the show, his presence is important and Mr. O'Neill does a good job with it.

John Aylward plays the dominant Pollitt patriarch, Big Daddy. From the first mere mention of the character's name, the audience understands that he is not a man to be reckoned with, and Mr. Aylward presents it precisely on cue. He uses the tones in his voice to control each word spoken and hits the mark every time. Mr. Aylward shows Big Daddy's strength even when expressing moments of despondence. The bravado of the character is easy to enact, but the sincerity of Big Daddy's determination to find out the exact source of his son's alcoholic behavior is a true talent to watch unfold.

Above all other accolades there is one person that this show truly belongs to and that is Laura Griffith as Maggie, the Cat! Ms. Griffith has proven to Seattle audiences that her dramatic performances (in a 'straight play') are equally as powerful and exciting to watch as her musical capabilities of past roles, and that is saying something extraordinary! Maggie's conniving sensuality brims just under the surface as she is pulled between her love for her husband Brick and her own unfulfilled libidinous needs. Ms. Griffith shows Maggie's subtlety in playing with those around her, setting them up and attacking to defend what is hers. She is a true cat; she presents herself for gentle petting with a low purr, and ready at any given moment to attack and bite the hand that is closest. She practically carries the first act easily in what is almost a tirade monologue, but does so in such a fascinating way that the audience is riveted. While credit must go to the playwright for such ear catching language, it is truly Ms. Griffith's gift that makes it ring true, and she continues - relentlessly, without fail - to deliver this caliber of performance throughout the entire production.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is not a simple production to put on stage. It can easily get muddled down if the actors haven't learned to hold their own, of if they don't truly understand the delicate balance of Williams' work. This is NOT the case with ACT Theatre's presentation. At a time when alcohol drinking wasn't so much a social event as a lifestyle, the play shows the hardships of watching someone close fall apart by their own self-destruction. It delves into family life and the pressures that are put upon us all to try and fit in, as well as the fears of being considered an outsider - even under 'golden boy' status. The women characters are fierce, as is usually the case with Tennessee Williams' work, and the men are pliable oaks bending but not breaking to their actions. The work is definitely a part of American history and culture showing a small example of a time, not long in the past.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof opened on Broadway in 1955 and ran just shy of 700 performances. While only receiving four Tony nominations (including Best Director Elia Kazan) it failed to win any, but went on to win the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Drama (being one of less than 10 to ever do so!). Revived on Broadway five more times it is best known for the 1958 film starring Paul Newman, Burl Ives (recreating his role as Big Daddy), and Elizabeth Taylor as Maggie the Cat. Ben Gazzara (the original Brick) and Elvis both turned down the role of Brick for the film production. Tennessee Williams was so disappointed with the film's editing of homophobia and sexist behaviors that he alleged told people in the queue for the movie that: 'It will set the industry back 50 years. Go home.'

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