A “well-acted version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” by Sorcerer Productions is a tribute to the talents of playwright Tennessee Williams as he explored family dynamics and dysfunctional relationships.
Director Bill McLaughlin points out the complexities of the story of a southern family unraveling in the face of a wealthy patriarch’s impending death. The play deals with “issues of honesty, sexual identity, unrequited love, betrayal, avarice and the specter of death,” he says in a director’s note.
But underlying the high drama is a satirical flavor that makes these characters bigger than life, and in view of the history of the play, often amusing.
The film version starred Elizabeth Taylor as Maggie, the frustrated wife of alcoholic Brick, played by Paul Newman. Burl Ives played Big Daddy, the pivotal character. That trio of stars is a hard act to follow, but a team of fine local actors gives the play its own successful spin.
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Tom Ammon, as Big Daddy, is the standout in the cast. In the second act, in a confrontation with his favorite son Brick, he is terrific as he becomes the playwright’s vessel for expounding observations on people and life, hope and greed, love and deception. He is sympathetic and sometimes funny, creating a memorable character.
During this second act, Brick, played by Sean Owen, comes out of his alcoholic stupor to reveal long-suppressed personal secrets. Owen is good as the sad, passive-aggressive Brick, retreating into his alcoholic haze to avoid the realities of his past and present.
The first act belongs to Molly Williams Stuckey as Maggie, Brick’s beautiful but sexually frustrated wife, banned from his bed. She spills her unhappiness in nonstop prattle to open the play, setting the scene for the audience as she derides the family of Gooper, Brick’s brother, his wife Mae and five kids ( “no neck monsters”).
She mourns her relationship, or lack thereof, with Brick, and berates him for his alcoholism. She talks so fast that it would be easy to miss some key facts of the past that reappear later; she could slow down for those moments. The iconic slip that Maggie wears in most versions of the show looks more like a designer dress in this one, red and fitted, with a bra beneath, not as sexy as it should be. Later in the play, Maggie becomes a stronger character, and Stuckey does well with the transition.
Rosh Wright, who is consistently good in area productions, is excellent in this one as Big Mama. The name is comical to begin with, as Wright is petite, if not tiny. Her acting, however, is big, as she emotes about her family, her dying husband, and the greed and jealousy that surface. She is both tragic and funny in a manic performance.
Joe Eister and Ashley Moses are down to earth as Brick’s brother Gooper and his wife Mae. Eister brings out Gooper’s envy in a way that elicits sympathy while decrying his greed, and Moses gives Mae a catty, caustic attitude. Jeff Zahn as the reverend and Kurtis Addison as the doctor round out the cast.
The small Studio Theater at the Clark Center works well for this intimate show, which all takes place in Maggie and Brick’s bedroom. This is a good production, worthy of the play’s reputation as an American classic.