by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Players by the Sea presents on its stage, at 106 Sixth Street North in Jacksonville Beach, what is considered Tennessee Williams’ best play “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” The production runs through May 12, with matinees on April 29 and May 6.
“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” has been around since 1955 and has been one of William’s most popular plays. It was revived on Broadway in 2004 with Ashley Judd and Jason Patrick and we understand another New York revival is in the works. In the North Florida area, it was first done in 1971 by Theatre Jacksonville, with three of the principals winning best actor/actress awards. We last saw this at Limelight in St. Augustine about three years ago. The 1958 film of the same name, with Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor, was nominated for best picture and is still very popular on the cable movie channels.
The plot concerns a rich plantation owner, Big Daddy, dying of cancer, who finds his two sons unsatisfactory; Gooper is a conniver, Brick a neurotic alcoholic who refuses to sleep with his wife Maggie. Big Daddy repeatedly states he can’t stand his wife of forty years, Big Mamma, who is dedicated to him and rejects the idea of his impending death.
What a rousing melodrama and how the Player’s cast enjoys immersing itself in all those luscious roles! The entire cast is sensational. The evening roars past us in a glory of gorgeous Southern grandiosity!
The first act is duet and duel between Maggie (Amanda Morales) and her husband Brick (Anthony Rich). Brick has his leg in a cast due to an accident; he was trying to run hurdles on an athletic field while intoxicated. The entire play takes place in their bedroom because he is unable to go up and down stairs. The frustrated Maggie does most of the talking and lets Brick know she wants to resume their sex life, nonexistent since his best buddy male friend Skipper died (he committed suicide) and Brick started drinking. She wants to have a baby. Brick’s responses are terse and largely hostile; he has no interest in what she wants. Ms. Morales and Mr. Rich are very believable as a conflicted couple at odds.
In the second act, Brick and Big Daddy (Dave Gowan) go at it. At this point Big Daddy still thinks his health is good except for a spastic colon. Big Daddy wants to learn more about the relationship Brick had with Skipper who committed suicide; a homosexual attraction is implied.
In the final portion of Act II, Big Daddy learns the truth about his prognosis and is incensed about the mendacity of his family. You will hear the word mendacity (which means lies), a lot in the course of the evening. Gowan displays tremendous emotional and vocal power in his portrayal. Big Daddy, in talking about truth delivers these powerful lines.” Truth is pain and sweat and paying bills and making love to a woman that you don’t love anymore. Truth is dreams that don’t come true and nobody prints your name in the paper until you die.” Brooks Anne Meierdierks does a fine job of Big Momma, continuing to love her husband despite his many flaws and past rejections, and keeping herself firmly focused on what’s best for the future of the family.
Gooper, played by Michael Smithgall, has never been his father’s favorite son because he wasn’t a jock and big star athlete like Brick but he feels that entitled to his share and then some of Big Daddy’s estate. His pregnant wife, Mae(Lindsay Michelle Curry) sucks up to Big Daddy with all the sweetness she can marshal but behind his back she is outspoken about what she and Gooper deserve from the estate.Mae spends much of her time chasing after her children (referred to as the no-neck monsters by Maggie). They are played by Daniel Wiggins as Buster, Dante Gonzalez as Sonny, Ella Humphries as Trixie and Emma Bole as Dixie, and do a great job, with annoyingly noisy exuberant entrances and exits.
Rounding out the cast are Bill White as Reverend Tooker and Jack Barnard as Dr. Baugh who has the unenviable task of informing the family that Big Daddy has incurable cancer and is dying.
The costumes by Director Holly Gutshall, Charlie White and Lindsay Curry reflect the well to do in the 1950s, with tailored suits for the men, a lovely pleated gown for the pregnant Mae, and a beautiful purple georgette dress for Big Momma. Brick and Maggie wear less, much less, for much of the first act, with boxers for Brick and a slip for Maggie.
If you go see this well directed and well performed classic of Tennessee Williams, we suggest getting there early and reading the program, but most especially the notes of Director Holly Gutshall. If you don’t you are going to wonder why the set looks like it is “falling apart.” It looks like the Yankees have come through during the Civil War and destroyed the walls with a barrage of gunfire. The set by Brian Grant and Ms. Gutshall is designed to suggest that the grandeur of the huge privately owned Southern cotton plantations were in decay and on their last legs, although Williams would have had no idea that this was imminent . The impact on Big Daddy’s clan is speculative, since he has a fortune of ten million dollars and 28,000 acres of the richest land in the Mississippi delta. We found the depiction of the deteriorating walls distracting, despite the explanation. The remainder of the furnishings are consistent with Big Daddy’s wealth, with the bedroom upholstered furniture and the bedroom dominated by a bed with a towering Eastlake headboard.
We will leave the climax of this drama for you to discover when you see the show. While this play is very dramatic and serious, it does have some humor, often provided by Big Mama.
For a glimpse of the set before you go, visit Player’s website at www.playersbythese.org, where you can also make reservations, or call 249-0289.
CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM