BWW Reviews: CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF Presented With Tennessee Williams Original Script at Theatre Palisades
CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF was always the playwright's favorite among all his plays. Theatre Palisades is presenting the original version of the script as written by Tennessee Williams before Eli Kazan, who was already hired to direct both Broadway and the film version, forced him to re-write the script to conform to the mores in McCarthy era 1955. This compelling original version has been professionally produced only two times, in 1958 in London and in 1974 on Broadway with Elizabeth Ashley, Keir Dullea and Fred Gwynne.
A wealthy Southern family gathers to celebrate the birthday of its patriarch, Big Daddy, the Delta's biggest cotton planter, and his return from a clinic with what he has been told is a clean bill of health. But that prognosis is just one thread in the web of deceit that has ensnared all of the family.
Focusing on uncovering mendacity (lies and liars) may seem to be too gigantic a chore for this family as each character is like a cat on a hot tin roof, trying to survive their unsettled existence. The women are frustrated, the brothers are at odds, the possibility of a serious illness hangs over the house, and everyone is in on the raging arguments and lack of lovemaking between Maggie and Brick. It's going to be quite a celebration for Big Daddy's 65th birthday,
Director Michael-Anthony Nozzi has instilled his vast knowledge of the playwright and his play with his cast. Sienna Farall is a wonder as Maggie, a Southern Belle caught in a world she never wanted. Life was supposed to be wonderful for her, so how has she gotten caught up in a loveless marriage? Farall sashays seductively and entices with her sweet-as-honey persona and accent, and she allows us to see into Maggie's troubled soul each time Brick rejects her advances. Her intensity overwhelms the much more sedate Ted Detwiler as Brick who literally seems to be just drinking his way through the role.
Another standout performance is Brian Robert Harris as Big Daddy. His intense portrayal of a man dealing with a possible cancer diagnosis is remarkable given the 35 year old actor plays a 65 year old man and does it well. After an intense confrontation with his son Brick, Big Daddy finally breaks down and Harris shows us that all his bravado comes from a place of overwhelming worry that the end is near and things are not the way he wants them to be. Nor is he done with women, although like Brick, he no longer has any interest in his wife. Both men prove they are related in the abominable way their treat their wives, and we can only assume the women stay for the sake of social standing and money.
Joanna Churgin's Big Mama is a tiny spitfire trying to hold the family together, barking orders, babying her adult son, sympathizing with Maggie, and trying to come to terms with a husband who does not love her. In that, she and Maggie are sisters. Churgin often finds her way to a spot onstage away from the action to allow her emotional reaction to be revealed, something I am sure a civilized Southern woman would do to avoid showing herself as anything other than perfect to the rest of the world.
Maria O'Connor gives Mae the bitchy quality needed for the role, showing us her real interest in life is money. Walking around as if she will give birth in an hour, O'Connor still manages to sneak around and spy on her in-laws, relaying the sordid details to her husband who in turn tells Big Mama who then tells Big Daddy who then erupts at Brick. Her husband Gooper (Michael Willens) sides with her on trying to convince Big Daddy to leave the family plantation to them and their 5 children, the "non-neck" monsters represented in this production by just one of them, Dixie (Ryanna Rowles and Makayla Rowles, real sisters sharing the role).
Peter Miller plays Rev. Tooker who seems to hang out in the hopes Big Daddy will leave his enough money for a new stained glass window in his church. And director Michael-Anthony Nozzi has stepped into the role of Don Baugh who must confess Big Daddy's real diagnosis to Big Mama, offering her what comfort and medical assistance he can.
Another character is the show is the marvelous set designed by Michael-Anthony Nozzi. While Maggie and Brick's bedroom is the focal point, there is also a beautiful walk-around porch outside the bedroom on which people listen in to conversations, watch fireworks, and sit and commiserate their fate. The color contrast between the indoor and outdoors portion of the set allows us to feel the heat inside and crisp coolness outdoors.
Mendacity, and liars and lying; "bromancing" booze hounds; frustrated women; feuding brothers; bitchy wives, and a near horde of "no neck monsters" all make this original script of Tennessee Williams classic play a memorable piece of theatre.
CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, the original script by Tennessee Williams, directed by Michael-Anthony Nozzi and produced by Martha Hunter and Sherman Wayne, at Theatre Palisades Pierson Playhouse located at 941 Temescal Canyon Rd., Pacific Palisades 90272. Performances run through July 13, 2014 on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are Adults $20, Seniors & Students $18. Box Office (310) 454-1970, Free onsite parking. More information at www.theatrepalisades.org
Production photos by Joy Daunis
Joanna Churgin and Brian Robert Harris
Sienna Farall and Joanna Churgin
Brian Robert Harris and Ted Detwiler