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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

From the aisle
April 11, 2014

Perseverance Theatre presents:

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

by Tennessee Williams


Runs April 11-27, 2014 - Anchorage


Reviewed by Robert Pond

The final play of the Anchorage Perseverance Theatre 2013-2014 season, at the Sydney Lawrence Auditorium, is a good production of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, said to be Williams’ favorite work.  As a theatre classic, ‘Cat’ continues to homage Williams’ poetic and somewhat mystical playwriting.  Tennessee Williams along with the likes of Arthur Miller continue to represent the best of the 20th century American theatre.

It’s not too uncommon for playwrights to continually tweak their finished work.  Maybe plays are never finished.   We are reminded that Williams adjusted and indeed rewrote some of his works i.e. Summer & Smoke (1948) became Eccentricities of a Nightingale (1964).  There is even the tale that Williams would change his text on the suggestion of a theatre usher.  The major rewriting and revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955) came to the 1974 Broadway revival and, is the version most produced since.   According to Williams, the rewriting of ‘Cat’ was to return it to his original intent, which, as the story goes, was marred by the influence or intimidation of Elia Kazan, who staged the original Broadway production.  Kazan denied the charge.  Indeed, there is no lack of connections throughout Williams’ body of work.  The one act Portrait of a Madonna seems a prototype to A Streetcar Named Desire and the characters that are evidenced in many of Williams’ works are part Blanche.

Set in the Old South of the Mississippi Delta just prior to the social and racial upheavals of the mid 20th century, the dysfunctional Politt family is in crisis on more than one front.  During the event of Big Daddy’s birthday party, Brick, the eldest Politt son, is at odds with his wife, Maggie the ‘cat’ over their misunderstood war.  All the wars, within this family, are inoculated with deceit or mendacity.  Maggie battles to rekindle the love between her and Brick as well as her ambition to secure Brick’s rightful place in the family by raising, like sister-in-law Mae, children.   Her opposition to this struggle is the guilt and memories that Brick is consumed with over his long time friend, Skipper, who committed suicide.  Brick and Maggie are as territorial as were Stanley and Blanche.  Big Daddy’s disdain for his own family is matched by the life-altering secret the family keeps from him.  Wealth, Big Daddy’s only friend, is defined by large land holdings.  Not withstanding, Big Daddy instinctively looks to Brick as the future of his legacy of wealth.  Younger son Gooper Politt and his cartoon wife, Mae, are simply opportunists plundering the weak one in the family, Brick.

The current Perseverance Theatre’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a well-paced piece by director Robert Barry Fleming.  This three-act offering is a bit odd and uniquely Williams.  The first act is largely Maggie’s (Elizabeth M. Kelly); the second act belongs to Maggie’s father-in-law, Big Daddy (Herbert Siguenza).  The third act is more the conventional ensemble experience.  The transition between act two and three was certainly different.  It appeared to be like a seamless film or TV edit, possibly addressing the audience’s endurance rather than anything inventive.

The level of talent on stage was impressive.  The first act was, however, difficult to get involved in.  It was so shrilled.  Possibly, as mentioned by audience members, it may have been an audio problem, which was not apparent in acts two and three.  Elizabeth M. Kelly played the cat Maggie without claws.  She is an actress with a generous amount of energy if not scope.   Ms. Kelly began high and had nowhere to go.  After her first act, we appreciated her range and clarity with the character.  Big Daddy was so well played by Herbert Siguenza.  As said, Big Daddy owns the second act.  He certainly lifted the production with his energy as well as his vulnerability.  For all the bravado of the Big Daddy character, Mr. Siguenza gave us some delicate moments.  Enrique Bravo is a solid young actor who makes clear choices.  His Brick was genuine.  Mr. Bravo is an eye-catching talent in that he is so engaged in every scene he’s in.

Kevin T. Bennett continues to impress.  His unique offering as the demurred Doctor Baugh has that silent non-threatening strength that can handle bad news well.  Additionally, Kevin gave a regional vocal attitude in place of the overly broad accent that all often clouds the actor’s character.  The “no neck monsters”, Jerryn Gray, Zola Rose Sayers-Fay, and Rowan Isaac Sayers-Fay, played the children of Mae and Gooper Politt.  They were so engaging; it was difficult to see them as a family agitation.

The scenic design was well suited to the play, though a bit broad even for Sydney Lawrence’s small theatre.

It is a good opportunity to revisit a great old play such as Cat On a Hot Tin Roof and wish for its like again.  You’ll have your chance to catch the ‘cat’ until April 27th.

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