Harry Groener in CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF
Posted by: showtunetrivia 11:55 am EDT 03/19/17

Daughter Rebecca and I attended Antaeus' new production of CAT ON HOT TIN ROOF, their inaugural show in their new digs, the Kiki and David Gindler Performing Arts Center in Glendale, California. The new place is gorgeous, with a spacious lobby and restrooms (old home had two--count 'em--single-stall rooms), and an expansive library. The company collection long ago exceeded the old shelf space, a song I know well, and extra books were being stored in members' garages. Now they have room to grow, though they're still being unpacked. Rebecca and I have signed up as library volunteers; somehow I think we're qualified. :). The house itself is lovely; no more seats with busted springs, no more uneven stairs with no rail!

The show's still in previews until next week, and, as usual, Antaeus double-casts, but the group we saw last night was stellar in every way. The production was sharply directed by Cameron Watson, who helmed their PICNIC in 2015. Rebecca Mozo as Maggie starts a little slow, but that long opening monologue is tough, playing off the largely unresponsive Brick (the excellent Ross Philips, who literally shows us all his, uh, stuff). Mozo does beautifully develop Maggie's desperation and Philips reveals Brick's search for his "click" equally well; the oppressive conditions of their relationship builds and builds as the play unfolds.

But the true highlight is Harry Groener as Big Daddy, especially in his long second act "talk" with Brick, punctuated by verbally battering Big Mama (well played by Groener's real life wife, Dawn Didawick--who also had the best Southern accent of the cast, in my ears, anyway). Groener's body language itself is a lesson in communication. You can see the power and rage within this Big Daddy with his every move, and it's all the more evident in the way he manipulates his family....which makes his collapse at Brick's drunken gaffe all the more effective. And he and Philips handle the complex father-son dynamic with skill. Both are reaching for something, but have no idea how to grasp it, if it's even there at all.

Jocelyn Towne and Patrick Wenk-Wolff round out the family as the unpleasant Mae and Gooper. Towne reminded my daughter of "one of those cute, fluffy, yappy dogs that turn out meaner than all the much bigger dogs." And Wenk-Wolff has that appropriately bland to the point of nausea look (aided admirably by his dweeby mustached), but when he explodes in Act Iii, you know this Gooper has been listening all his life to his Daddy--he perfectly channeled Groener's earlier outbursts and dismissiveness. Two decades from now, he'll have stomped the feistiness out of Mae.

As I said, Antaeus double-casts, so check their calendar if you want this gang. In the other group, Mike McShane is Big Daddy, and real life spouses Linda Park and Daniel Bess (whose Hal in Cameron's PICNIC and Hotspur in HENRY IV were both outstaniding) are Maggie and Brick. I kinda think I'm going to save my pennies and see the other cast, too.


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