Torch Theater, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Also see Elizabeth's review of H.M.S. Pinafore
Williams' examination of a decaying Southern culture and the lies that make up so many lives centers on Maggie and Brick, an unhappily married couple staying at the 28,000-acre plantation owned by Brick's family. It is his father's birthday, but there is much more going on than a celebration for "Big Daddy." There is, in Brick's words, mendacity going on at the homestead, with all of the characters – also including "Big Mama," Brick's brother Gooper and his wife Mae – telling lies about each other and to themselves.
Brick is haunted by his failed football career and dead best friend, and has retreated into the bottle. Maggie was born into poverty and doesn't want to lose her new-found life. Gooper and Mae are angling to take over the plantation when Big Daddy passes on. The elders have lied to each other for so long that they don't know what's truth and fiction anymore, and Big Daddy has just been told the biggest lie of them all: that he doesn't have cancer and is near death.
Over the course of the evening, these lies are laid bare, with Brick always probing for the truth from others, but not willing to delve into his own past. Williams leaves the relationship between Brick and his friend, Skipper, ambiguous, implying a gay relationship but never confirming it. That same sense permeates much of the action – we are told what the characters believe, but it is never clear what is true. And all of them are unreliable narrators.
The show provides plenty of meat for the main actors, but they also have to take caution to not overeat with the roles. Each of these – Stacia Rice as Maggie, Peter Hansen as Brick and Peter Thoemke as Big Daddy – find the right balance in their characters. Rice is calm, collected and direct as Maggie, though you can sense the panic about her situation lying beneath the surface.
Thoemke, on the other hand, presents a Big Daddy that has used bluster and volume to find his way in life, and isn't about to stop. He charges through the role like a bull in a china shop, never caring about who may get hurt along the way, but with a central drive for the truth.
Hansen starts with a rock-hard façade, but one that is ground away by the events of the evening. It's a decidedly difficult role – there needs to be a balance of sympathy and contempt for the character – but one that Hansen handles very well.
The rest of the cast, especially Linda Sue Anderson as Big Mama and Ellen Apel as Mae, perform well, while the whole production gets a strong directing turn from David Mann, who keeps the action flowing through the evening. By the end, you feel like this is a real family in front of you, one with deep-seated fears, longtime rivalries and wounds that will never be given a chance to heal.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof runs through July 29 at the Theater Garage, 711 W. Franklin Ave. (at the corner of Franklin and Lyndale), Minneapolis. For tickets, call 952-929-9079, or visit www.torchtheater.com for more information.