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BWW Review: CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF at Drury Lane Theatre

BWW Review: CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF at Drury Lane Theatre

As the curtain rises on Drury Lane Theatre's production of CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, we view a striking image: the interior of a derelict Mississippi mansion, complete with crumbling masonry, mossy growths on the ceiling, and a none-too-sturdy grand staircase. Amid these ruins, each member of the dysfunctional Pollitt family battles other forms of decay: failing health, eroding relationships, toxic jealousy, and thwarted ambitions. Under the direction of Marcia Milgrom Dodge, Tennessee Williams' tormented characters embody the metaphorical feline in the title as they pace Kevin Depinet's formidable set. They are trapped "in a house on fire, no fire department to call"-a state shared by all of humanity, in the words of the playwright.

At a family birthday party for 'Big Daddy', we first meet Maggie, the younger of his two daughters-in-law, a vivacious spirit railing against the oppressive atmosphere of her husband's estrangement and her in-laws' pressures to bear grandchildren. Genevieve Angelson delivers Maggie's dialogue with a rapid-fire fluency that displays all the charm of her upbringing as a Nashville belle, underscored by a gritty, desperate determination to make her way in the world. Although a recognized beauty who obviously knows how to turn heads, Maggie's advances are met with a stony indifference by her alcoholic husband, Brick (Anthony Lowden), whose detachment presents an enigma until the couple's troubled backstory unravels.

In time, we meet the rest of the family: jealous sister-in-law Mae (Gail Rastorfer), scheming elder son Gooper (Michael Milligan), and the offstage voices of their five children-or "the no-neck monsters", as their aunt Maggie calls them. When Big Daddy makes his entrance, Matt DeCaro personifies the dominant presence implied by the patriarch's nickname. Equally frightening, cruel, and morally repellant, DeCaro's Big Daddy also reveals a pitiful vulnerability as he faces his own mortality. Driscoll Otto's lighting punctuates the moments when his gruff façade cracks with brief halos of blue light, which illuminate the old man as if we are seeing glimpses of eternity through his eyes. Matching the vitality of DeCaro's performance, Cindy Gold capitalizes on the humorous bits in the most overtly entertaining role of this bleak drama, Big Mama, while garnering sympathy for the worn-out matriarch whose care for her ill husband is returned with abusive tirades.

Throughout the course of this unhappy family reunion, the production draws out many of the play's timelines themes: hope and despair, love and jealousy, honesty and lies. Most prominently, the ruined mansion constantly draws us back to the idea that time is a force beyond our control, speeding us toward death or destruction. In the words of Big Daddy, "nothin' can outrun" time. Paradoxically, time also seems to stand still on this sultry evening, almost as if the characters are living their own version of Miss Havisham's wedding day. There's a stifling feel about the hazy lighting, the subtly surrealistic notes in an otherwise detailed set design (for example, characters 'eavesdropping' through invisible doors), and the slightly eerie effects of the offstage dialogue and sound (designed by Ray Nardelli). Are we doomed to live in a cycle of despair or hurtling towards an untimely end? In Tennessee Williams' world, it's unclear which is the lesser of two evils.

CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF plays through August 26 at Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, IL 60181. Tickets are available at 630-530-0111 or drurylanetheatre.com.

Photo credit: Brett Beiner Photography



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From This Author Emily McClanathan

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