LTM's CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF sizzles and simmers
Kudos to Little Theatre of Manchester for tackling Williams’ 1955 Pulitzer Prize-winning, complicated masterpiece Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. LTM’s production is meritorious for a number of reasons, but not without its flaws. To quote the infamous Maggie the Cat, “What is the victory of a cat on a hot tin roof? I wish I knew...Just staying on it, I guess...” For the most part, the cast manage to stay up there, but should use the remainder of its run to ratchet up the temperature.
Director Antoni Sadlak knows his way around the tricky text (which Williams continued to tinker with into the 1970s) having worked on the famed Stratford, CT production featuring Keir Dullea and Elizabeth Ashley. Sadlak’s staging is clear-headed, but sometimes fails to turn up the heat. Williams said of his Cat, “I’m trying to catch the true quality of experience in a group of people, that cloudy, flickering, evanescent -- fiercely charged! -- interplay of live human beings in the thundercloud of a common crisis.” The drama should be suffused with humor and, at times, scorch us with brutality.
This production’s luscious and frisky Maggie the Cat, a role famously essayed by Elizabeth Taylor, Kathleen Turner and Ashley Judd, is Clare Fravel. Showing her depth and range as an actor, Fravel was last seen at LTM as the shy Sister James in Doubt. Clearly it is a long way from a New York Catholic school to this catty, slip-sheathed Southern sexpot, but Fravel pulls it off with a smart, tightly-wound performance.
Brick, played by Randy Ronco, should be pretty much the opposite of his fierce wife. While she is on the attack, he is in full retreat. In the early-going, I wasn’t sure I was buying Ronco’s interpretation, as his Brick was a little too willing to engage in the constant prattle of Maggie. Brick needs to be withdrawn in the beginning so his later explosions are the direct result of his being dragged out of his boozy bunker into the light of truth. Fortunately, in these powerful scenes, Ronco excels and his performance sharpens while alcohol dulls Brick’s rough edges.
Big Daddy, of course, casts Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’s longest shadow. It requires a bear of an actor and a towering performance as it is the King Lear of Williams’ oeuvre. LTM’s Edwin Lewis appears to be a bit too young for the part and, occasionally, does not wear the mantle of this plantation king comfortably. Other times, particularly in his extended tete-a-tete with Brick, Lewis is excellent. As the run progresses, hopefully Lewis will make his Big Daddy all the bigger.
Sara Logan as the sycophantic Big Mama and Stacey Hartley as the grasping, spying Mae both fail to make the most of their parts. A mistake is to approach these two characters with too much sympathy. Although they are both women fighting to maintain their share of Big Daddy’s affections and fortune, they are major contributors to Williams’ over-arching theme of mendacity. Big Mama and Mae are lying, conniving and silly characters. Their parts are filled with much humor and flashes of bitchiness, and Logan and Hartley would better serve their roles by amping up the energy. One only need look at Emily Weiner’s brief, bratty appearance as the no-neck monster Dixie to see how it’s done.
The production elements, similarly, could also turn up the volume. The sound effects were muddy and oddly amplified by the assistive listening devices on the patrons surrounding me, leaving me to wonder if an owl was sitting behind me in the fourth row. The set and costume designs are strong (particularly Maggie’s 50s couture), but could amplify the new-money trashy wealth of the upstart Pollitts.
Overall, LTM’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is an admirable and worthwhile journey to the Mississippi Delta. Let’s hope the cast shakes off some of that New England reserve and lassoes more of the play’s fireworks before the end of its run.