At the outset of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, the music track – Monk, Bird et al- seems to sweat within Sue Lepage’s evocative, domineering, asymmetrical, and life-worn set. And so does Moya O’Connell’s Maggie who, kept at a distance by husband Brick, also sweats emotionally with pain, frustration, indignation, and aggressive hopelessness. Maggie is alone in her marriage and has become “frantic, hard and cruel”. She exudes both sexual and existential need and Brick is decisively cool. Theirs is a war of the unspoken on one level and if Maggie feels “punished” by the man she desires, he suggests that she “take a lover”. O’Connell neatly gives the role an intense but unforced undercurrent of frustration.
Maggie must endure her sister-in-law Mae’s petty competitiveness, for the latter has children and Maggie does not. Both Nicole Underhay as Mae and Jay Turvey as her husband are accusing, snooping, predatory, greedy, and sycophantic, and both actors give their presence a clammy potency. Mother-in-law Big Mama is loud, shrill and repugnant in Corinne Koslo’s compact characterization that is volatile with its own confused pain. Big Mama doesn’t accept privacy and we ourselves, very soon, feel trapped and attacked in this household, thanks to cast and director.
There is naked flesh on display and we are also made to feel open to both the physical and emotional presence of Maggie and Brick in their dual of solitudes. The “one good thing” in Brick’s life was his friendship with pal Skipper and this fact fuels Maggie who is predatory with her pain, especially when Brick asks “how are you going to have a child by a man who can’t stand you?”
The great unresolved issue on all sides is Brick’s relationship with Skipper. Brick broods with inner torment, drinks himself into more of an inner hell which, in Act Two, Big Daddy attempts to reach and, in his own way, understand. Jim Mezon plays Big Daddy with massive and brutal animality, one that dominates everyone. He erupts with savage self-assertion, calls his years of marriage to Big Mama a hypocrisy, and each outburst by Mezon is truly disturbing.
Big Daddy is crude and vulgar—we even hear him piss – and he goes at Brick with unrelenting attacks. Brick has “a real liquor problem” and is “throwing his life away” but Brick only remarks “I try to look like I listen, but I don’t”. Big Daddy is big-bellied, easily enraged, and struggles for breath with a son who is distant and seems haunted and afraid. But Big Daddy too is another life – and this is Williams’ forte—that cannot escape it’s self.
At over three hours, this production remains charged with electricity throughout. Director Eda Holmes is incisive and insightful as she explores Williams’ knack for mundane exchanges that imply profoundly felt pain. Big Daddy, Big Momma, and Maggie especially show how inner motives shape contours in the words they speak. We feel in both Williams’ writing and the performances a spontaneous selectivity for appropriate words that reflect the hopeless reality of each speaker’s life. Both Williams and cast make colloquial seem fresh and both suggest that a volatile undercurrent of the unspoken twists these characters at every turn.
Gray Powell plays Brick in a distinctly subdued key -the way Jay Turvey plays Dr. Baugh, his brother- as effectively dynamic in his sulking withdrawal. Although some might prefer more overt signs of inner torment and frustration from Brick, we must remember that both sons are the offspring of Big Daddy who doesn’t give anyone else room to have a life or a voice. In fact, his lower key tends to enhance and display the wounded madness of the others. In all, this is a very powerful production and both the playwright and his memorable writing are well served.