Set in 1955, play is still relevant for today’s audiences
Where do you begin with a show like “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof?”
The script is intense. The dialogue rich with conflict. The characters are real. Emotions are raw and close to the surface. As an audience member, the experience is exhausting; for cast members it must be even more so.
Set in the South on a 28,000-acre plantation, you almost feel the unbearable heat and humidity and how stifling it can become. The story is about alcoholism, dysfunctional marriages, family jealousy, self-destructive behavior and manipulation.
The story begins with Maggie and Brick, played by student actor Denise Angieri and professional actor Sam Cordes, in their bedroom suite of the large plantation home.
Maggie’s attempt at conversation with her husband becomes nearly a monologue during this opening scene. We learn they have an unfulfilled marriage; we learn there is tension in the home; we learn the family patriarch is battling an illness and that Brick drinks too much.
It is through this introduction that the brilliant playwright Tennessee Williams reveals the backgrounds and history of his characters and sets the tone for the tension that will continue throughout the play.
Brick’s part is physically exhausting. His foot and ankle are in a large plaster cast forcing Cordes to hop on one foot, or rely on a single crutch. As an alcoholic, Cordes has to change his behavior throughout the play to reflect the amount of alcohol he consumes.
Big Daddy and Big Mama, Brick’s parents, are played by OST veteran Rob Doyen and student actor Colleen O’Brien, who really anchor the rest of the cast. Doyen’s part is far more intense than some of the roles OST audiences have seen him in recently, but he delivers a stellar performance. Intense. Angry. Betrayed. Broken. Doyen delivers on all emotions.
O’Brien as Big Mama is all business and take-charge, until Big Daddy says otherwise. Her love for her family is obvious and O’Brien shows a range of other emotions as well.
Act I also introduces the audience to Brick’s older brother and his family. Goober, played by Chad Fess, and his wife Mae, played by Natalie Irlmeier, are meddling trouble makers. Their five children are perfectly loud and annoying. Mae herself is pregnant with child number six, a stark contrast to Maggie and Brick who have no children. The audience learns in the opening minutes that this is a stress point in the plantation house.
As Act II continues, we can see how Big Mama and Big Daddy have had a dysfunctional relationship for all of their married life. Big Daddy is a self-made man, who shares credit with no one.
“Who’s boss around here?” Doyen yells. “I am. I built this place.”
Poor communication is the common element in all the family relationships, and anger is a very real emotion for each of them as well. “Communication between two people is very difficult,” Brick says.
Indeed it is, and this story showcases that on many levels.
Director Dr. Gail Humphries-Mardirosian embraces the challenges of heavy dramas. The ensemble cast gives everything to the production, and while there is much arguing and yelling, it comes off very real.
Helping create the mood of the plantation on a summer evening are the efforts of set designer Mimi Hedges, lighting designer Winston G. Limauge and sound designer Ben Moore. The bedroom suite includes white columns, plantation shutters, wicker furniture and a scrim that changes colors as evening progresses. Light and sound effects for the fireworks and thunderstorms are nice touches. The gigantic moon also adds perfectly to the moodiness of the night.
Every female cast member seems to exhibit the traits of a “cat on a hot tin roof,” but Maggie, the only one to admit she feels that way, just may be the one who finds at least a portion of what she was looking for when the final curtain falls.