CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (Walnut Street Theatre): A thinking play

Introducing Cat on a Hot Tin Roof as “a thinking play,” Tennessee Williams wrote to his audiences: “I want to go on talking to you as freely and intimately about what we live and die for as if I knew you better than anyone else whom you know.” This play, an adaptation of a short story he wrote, won a Pulitzer in 1953. Yet in 1974 Williams made changes. It opens slow and repetitious as Margaret aka Maggie the Cat talks excessively. (Way too long and I blame the playwright despite his clever, clever dialogue.) Brick drinks as she carries on about “no-neck monsters.” The “monsters” are his brother Gooper, and his wife Mae’s five cute children who wreak havoc, running wildly across the stage. And another baby is on the way. Margaret hates her in-law’s children, but she wants a baby. Her husband, Brick, an indifferent alcoholic, asks her, “How in hell on earth do you imagine that you’re going to have a child by a man that can’t stand you?”  She responds: “That’s a problem that I will have to work out.”

Gooper, a successful lawyer, doesn’t think much of Brick. And his wife says that Brick “never carried a thing in his life but a football or a highball.” Things get tough for Brick as Maggie delves into her husband’s close relationship with Skipper, his recently deceased friend. And everyone worries about Brick and Gooper’s father, Big Daddy, who has just had a medical evaluation and is not nearly as healthy as he had thought. His doctor and a no-good Reverend don’t offer much help, and eventually the rampant mendacity that undergirds the story spills out. 

The actors’ Southern accents sound very good. I wonder if there was a dialogue coach or if the Producing Artistic Director, Bernard Havard, dealt with that. The set by Roman Tatarowicz is quite curious. A very large cut-off tree branch hangs across the top of the stage, festooned with Spanish moss. This is the Mississippi Delta home of a very wealthy Southern planter. It’s his birthday. “Big Daddy, blow out the candles,” shades of Williams’ The Glass Menagerie.  Do you want to see this play by a giant of the American stage? I think so. 

The Walnut Street Theatre’s cast is just perfect. I’m surprised that I can say that, what with the 1958 movie version having starred the likes of Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor, Burl Ives, and Madeleine Sherwood. 

[Walnut Street Theatre, 825 Walnut Street] February 14-March 12, 2023;

The Cast: Matthew Amira,  David Bardeen, Scott Greer, Johnnie Hobbs, Jr., Alicia Roper, Wendy Scharfman, Michael Toner, Natasha S. Truitt, Alanna Smith, Scott Greer, Wendy Scharfman. Children: Violet Mae Badeau, Kelsey Noel Briggs, Gavin Barden, Jackson Deen Goral, Olivia Hiepler, Faye Lorena Stockmal, Grant Knudson, Raphael Sommer.

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