Before the action begins in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” the sounds of children set a tonal backdrop to this theatrical lament about birth and death, love and hate and all points of emotion in between. It also serves as springboard for the entrance of childless Maggie, the so-called “cat” in Tennessee Willliams’ 1955 Pulitzer Prize winning drama.
And as directed by Jennifer Wolf, Surfside Players’ production of this classic American drama boldly traverses this big emotional landscape.
Although a classic version of melodrama, the play unfolds like classic tragedy. Its royal family here is the landed aristocracy of the American south. Its king and queen are Big Daddy, who is dying of cancer, and Big Mamma, who is deep in denial. Its princes are two brothers — the conniving oldest brother, a lawyer named Gooper, and alcoholic Brick, the youngest who, although ineffectual, is his parents’ favored son. The princesses are the wives, cat fighting over who will get what when Big Daddy dies.
And, as Aristotle would have liked it, the drama runs its course in less than a day (actually, here it’s real time) and in one place.
Here, Amy Pastoor creates an unusual yet intriguing Maggie — one who is more efficient than sultry, more business about romance rather than seductive. We see the woman who clawed her way up from a dirt poor childhood and into landed gentry. Indeed, she points to a bow and arrow and says that was her Diana trophy. In Roman mythology, Diana was the cold, chaste goddess of the hunt who ruled the moon. Yet another touch of the classic.
Ben Ball carves a good portrait of Brick, who wears a cast and hobbles on a crutch. Tennessee Williams loved symbolism, so Brick’s crutch here is symbolic of his use of alcohol as crutch as well. But poor Mr. Ball — with such a w – i – d – e scenic design, he spends most of his energy hobbling across the stage to get about two dozen bourbons during the show. I got exhausted watching him.
Typically, Big Daddy and Big Mama are played by, well, big actors. Not so with this production — Steven Wolf and Linda Lawson bring, again, more of regal touch to their roles. Although he brings an interesting mix of southern and New York, Mr. Wolf digs into some real emotion for this man who is oh-so-bigger than life. Towards the end, he enters with wearing his kingly royal blue bathrobe and holds his final court with humor and pathos.
And Ms. Lawson is utterly winning in her portrayal of Big Mama. Generous with the di-yip-tha-wongs, Ms. Lawson finds a flirtatious, over the top portrayal of this gregarious Southern woman yet still allows her some heartbreaking moments when she discovers the truth about her husband.
Gordon Ringer and Becky Behl-Hill bring the right tinge of no-good to Gooper and his wife, Mae. Although the fertile couple have five children with one on the way, only four children showed up. The fifth must have been baking mud pies.
While Surfside’s production is neat and sharply detailed, the light flooded the stage with so much brightness the house never did darken. It misses the nuances that shadows, angles and gobos can bring to express that southern gothic quality to the show.
This is a serious production of an American classic. You will be moved by its poetic language, its deep emotion and the cast who bring it to articulate life.