Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Some of his reasons for liking Cat are technical: It takes place in real time, i.e., its running time is exactly the amount of time that elapses in the action of the play. And it has unity of place as well, all the action occurring in one bedroom. His other reason is: "I believe that in Cat I reached beyond myself, in the second act, to a kind of crude eloquence of expression in Big Daddy that I have managed to give no other character of my creation."
Who am I to gainsay Tennessee Williams, but I would venture that the real reason it's his favorite is that it's the one of his major plays that deals explicitly with homosexuality, both confessed and repressedsomething pretty controversial for 1955. Also, it was his biggest hit and probably made him the most money, which is another good reason for an artist to like something.
But this might be one of those instances where an artist's opinion of his or her work doesn't jibe with the general opinion. I don't know how many theatergoers would say that this is their favorite Tennessee Williams play. It isn't my favorite, although I agree with him that the second act is terrific. The problem is the third act.
You can tell how unsatisfying the third act is by the fact that the published play had two versions of it. The trouble is that the play climaxes spectacularly at the end of the second act, and everything afterwards seems insignificant. Who cares that Big Mama finds out that Big Daddy has cancer instead of spastic colon? Who cares if Big Daddy wills the plantation to Gooper and Mae and their six kids, or to Brick and Maggie? The only real suspense in the play, at least for me, is whether Brick is gay or not, and that's pretty much answered in the second act.
But not answered with certainty. The one word that a lot of people know from this play is "mendacity," a five-dollar word for "lying." Brick is disgusted by everybody lying all the time, but isn't he just as guilty of it as they are? Isn't his own lying about the nature of his love for his dead football buddy Skipper the source of his disgust with himself and the reason for his alcoholism?
I think so, but as Williams puts it in one hell of a stage direction: "Some mystery should be left in the revelation of character in a play, just as a great deal of mystery is always left in the revelation of character in life, even in one's own character to himself." So I guess we'll never know for sure about Brick. Just like we'll never know for sure what happens between Brick and Maggie after the lights go down.
Despite some reservations about the play, there is nothing at all that I can fault in the Little Theatre production except that Big Mama is referred to more than once as fat and, as played here by Carolyn Hogan, she is anything but that. Why not just drop those lines? The director Denise Schulz has elsewhere made a few aesthetically judicious cuts, and abridged the play from three acts to two, which works very well.
The excellent set by Colby Martin Landers and lighting by Ryan Jason Cook follow very closely Williams' "Notes for the Designer," and the costumes by Lila Martinez and props by Ryan Jason Cook are fine, too. The supporting cast members, Hugh Witemeyer, Theodore Hamblin (too young for the role), and the five children all do good work, and some of Hugh's expressions are priceless.
Matt Heath is, as usual, very enjoyable as Gooper and Jennifer Benoit as the fecund Mae is wonderfully annoying, as she should be. Carolyn Hogan does a convincing Big Mama (I find the role kind of irritating), despite her lack of girth, and someone (the director, I presume) created a very clever bit of business for her in examining the sheets of Brick and Maggie's bed.
Tom Pentecost is a knockout as Big Daddy. It's one of the great roles in American theater, Williams was right about that. He represents the life force, soon to be extinguished, and Pentecost is bigger than life, but still real. His extended conversation with Brick is really what makes Cat worth seeing, and he has a worthy interlocutor in Peter Diseth as Brick. Brick is sort of missing in action in the first act, which belongs to Maggie, but when he finally comes alive in the second act, it's well worth the wait.
Peter Diseth is one of the best actors in town, and he upholds his reputation here. Equally excellent is Kate Costello as Maggie, a role which suits her to a T. First of all, you have to look good in a slip, that almost extinct item of lingerie, and Kate does. And there's a sultriness in her voice that completes the package.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is one of the great titles in American theater, but the play is not perfect. However, this production is about as close to perfect as you can get for community theater. Congratulations to Denise Schulz and her cast and crew for pulling it off.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams is being presented at the Albuquerque Little Theatre through April 28, 2013. Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00, Sundays at 2:00. Also Thursday April 25 at 8:00. Info at www.albuquerquelittletheatre.org or 505-242-4750.