Tennessee William’s iconic play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, is saturated with dramatic tension. This is, undoubtedly, a major reason that this play still resonates with people today. Mississippi Mud Productions, lead by Austin Pendleton’s strong direction, presents this play in a very intimate setting. With no intermission and a tightly packed room, the audience never gets to disengage from the story and its tellers,
The play opens with Maggie and Brick Pollitt getting ready for Big Daddy’s birthday, but more dramatically, the revelation that Big Daddy has cancer. During this intense first scene we see Maggie’s frustration with her husband Brick. Brick is a non-stop alcoholic who refuses to sleep with his wife after she had an affair with his best friend. We are never quite sure whether Brick had a sexual relationship with his best friend or not. Before we know it, Big Daddy enters and lays down the gauntlet. He is strong and intimidating. After a long verbal battle with his son Brick, the two finally open up to each other and share a few tender moments between father and son. When the actual birthday party starts there are more things burning then just the candles on Big Daddy’s birthday cake. The climax is strong and full of emotions, making the audience uneasy and provoked at the same time
The cast does a great job maintaining focus even when “off” stage (they sit along a wall in the room in complete view of the audience). However, I felt there were some inconsistencies in the actors portrayal. Jen Danby and Jamie Moore are electric as Maggie and Brick Pollitt respectively. Their scene is fraught with sexual tension and disgust for one another. No doubt that these two have chemistry and we follow their story without ever losing interest. Also, R. David Robinson is equally compelling in his turn as Big Daddy. Robinson is a tour de force. His presence is commanding and we are under his control from the minute he walks on stage. When Robinson and Moore share a tender moment as father and son, we tear up. These three actors are the heart and soul of this play and deliver amazing performances.
Yet, some of the other cast was not as convincing. Maureen Mooney, who plays Big Daddy’s daughter- in-law Mae, seems awkward on stage. Her accent is the least consistent which makes her unintelligible at times. Mae is pregnant throughout the play, but Mooney appears to be too old to be with child. Therefore, Mae’s pregnancy seems outrageous and downright unbelievable. We can never quite believe in Mooney’s state, which makes us disconnect from her Most of the actors brought so much energy and inner life to their characters, which made Charles Black’s performance stand out for the wrong reasons. Black needs to up his energy and volume to match his fellow actors. Lastly, there seemed to be sexual tension between Brick and his mother. Ginger Grace plays Big Mama and makes us uneasy by the way she acts towards her son, Brick. I was not sure whether this tension was intentional or not, but it seemed out of place.
That withstanding, this production is definitely worth seeing. Austin Pendleton understands this play well and taps into its rhythm with great skill. For the most part, the acting is riveting and profoundly humane. The intimacy and simplicity of the set allows the audience to invest in these characters without any distractions. If you want to feel like a part of a new family and go on a searching journey for two and a half hours, don’t miss this production.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof plays now through No. 17th at “Tom’s” The Alexander Technique Center for Performance and Development, 330 West 38th St., Suite 805, 8th Floor, New York (between 8th and 9th Avenues). http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/471755