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Herbert Wolff: 'Cat On A Hot Tin Roof'

  A decade or so ago…in reviewing a production of a play by Tennessee Williams…I quoted Steve Lawson, a scholar who has written extensively on the playwright. Lawson stated that Tennessee Williams called the theater, “a place where you make time for problems of people to whom you’d show the door if they came knocking for a job.”

It’s déjà vu all over again in a production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof…now on the main stage at Berkshire Theatre in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. This is a production of a work that a Williams considered his favorite…despite the prior success of Streetcar Named Desire. and indeed “Cat” won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1955.

There are three main characters in this play.  The first is Maggie…the self-proclaimed cat on a hot tin roof.  She was raised in poverty and believed her beauty and sexual allure would open the door to a secure social level.  She married Brick…a star college athlete and son to the wealthiest land owner and biggest cotton-planter in the delta…referred to by everyone as “Big Daddy.”

But there a few hurdles in Maggie’s path.  Brick rejects her advances, and relies on alcohol – too much alcohol – to mask his real feelings about sexual  and success.  There’s also another son, Gooper, a an older brother and a corporate lawyer… married with three children and a wife, who also has her eye on the prospective wealth and social standing.  Surely Big Daddy would want a major portion of the estate to be shared with his not-so-adorable grandchildren.   

All are gathered at the estate to celebrate Big Daddy’s birthday, and

also to celebrate the news that Big Daddy’s been told he had a clean bill of health following cancer tests.  Also attending are Big Daddy’s local doctor and the family church minister.

As the relationships unfold, we learn that Big Mama considers Brick “ her only son.”

It’s a family gathering all right, but we learn more about their dysfunctional relationship than their love for one another.

The acting skills of the cast are apparent throughout the scenes…especially the performance of Rebecca Brooksher as Maggie.  But to this reviewer …the production’s director, David Auburn,…I sense he lost a grip on the time-frame that Tennessee Williams was describing.   This was at one time a close- knit family…each with a point of view…but not listening to each other.  Further, it is apparent that director Auburn made a decision that the interchange of language needed up-dating, and he reworded some moments of rage to include expletivies that were not accepted on stage or in the motion pictures in the 1950s. These were jarring and not the words of Tennessee Williams.

Despite my being off-put by my personal regard and respect for the works of Tennessee Williams, if you’ve not seen his plays professionally staged and performed, here’s an opportunity to get acquainted.  The works of Tennessee Williams stand true for every generation.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof plays now through July 16 at Berkshire Theatre Group’s Main Stage, Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

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