For a family obsessed with getting to the truth about matters in their lives, it’s amazing how those lives are governed by the lies they tell themselves.
Tennessee Williams’ “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof,” which opens tonight at the Studio Stage Door, courtesy of Cranbrook Community Theatre is about sex, drunkenness and death. And, as mentioned above, it is about the lies we tell ourselves even as we seek to dispel the lies others are telling themselves.
“Cat” is a powerful play, with great depths. It is powerfully directed by Terry Miller — his 12th show for CCT, and is presented in astounding fashion by local actors at the top of their powers.
Big Daddy, the patriarch of the Pollitt family, has been diagnosed with cancer. The whole clan — his wife Big Mama, their two sons and daughters-in-law, and assorted hangers-on — has gathered for Big Daddy’s birthday and to see what spoils might be in store for them when the plantation is apportioned out after his death. But a new series of tests has given him a reprieve, a new lease on life, and he is his old self again, angrier than ever.
“Cat” is divided into three acts, and runs in real time — the action is continuous. It lasts exactly the amount of time a hard-core alcoholic would need to drink a bottle of bourbon. That alcoholic is Brick (Sean Swinwood), Big Daddy’s and Big Mama’s beloved younger son, as tormented a character as you’ll ever see in drama, who drinks until he gets the “click in his head” that makes him peaceful.
But the play is carried by Brick’s wife Maggie (Jennifer Inglis), and Big Daddy (Alexander Gilmour).The playwright has given these two characters momentous lines, with which they confront Brick, until they force him to respond in kind.
Voluble and loquacious, Maggie is in despair for her drunken, apathetic, loveless husband, and is frustrated beyond belief. Her magnificent opening diatribe to Brick is really a soliloquy — Southern Gothic meets Shakespeare — and will tell you everything about the story you’ll need to know — but you have to listen carefully, and it won’t be clear until later. Occasionally, she drops a devastating line of truth (to be old without money is awful … how true), and her ceaseless confrontation with Brick draws him out his torpor into a state of teeth-clenching rage. Something is eating him up inside. Brick is at a disadvantage — he has to hobble around on a crutch, a cast on a broken ankle. But he has found another use for his crutch, when his back is against the wall.
The second act, likewise, centres around a conversation, this one between Big Daddy and Brick. Big Daddy’s brush with death has lent him an insight and frankness, but just below his surface he is a shouter and punisher. He too pushes Brick to the point of eruption, but what Brick reveals forces things to the surface the family has long buried.
Big Mama (Nikola Kaufman) is a woman in complete denial, a matriarch who’s seeing the world she’s built up breaking apart. Gooper (Brent Gill) is Brick’s older brother, capable and resentful, despised by his parents. He and his wife Mae (Nikole Spring) are in jeopardy of being displaced by Brick and Maggie, and intend to fight back.
Peter Schalk appears as Doctor Baugh, and Galen Olstead and Bob McCue will trade places over the run in the role of Reverend Tooker.
“Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” seethes with anger and unsatisfied needs. It features husbands who despise the wives who adore them, wives who appear when their husband’s names are called, a quick but revealing travelogue, a dead friend who will not die, and plenty of whispering behind each other’s backs.
“Cat On A Hot Tin Roof,” by Tennessee Williams, directed by Terry Miller and produced by Sally Masters, is one of the great plays of all time. Here’s your chance to see it. It opens Friday, Jan. 15, at the Studio Stage Door in Cranbrook, and runs Jan. 16, 20-23, and 27-30. Tickets available at Lotus Books. Performances at 8 p.m.