Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Feisty Feline

MIchael Amsler

Southern discomfort: Tim Hayes and Laurie Work find that death threatens to put an end to their relationship problems in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ slinks to success at Actors’ Theatre

By Daedalus Howell

THERE’S MORE than one way to skin the proverbial cat, as Actors’ Theatre’s production of Tennessee Williams’ psychosexual chestnut Cat on a Hot Tin Roof deftly proves. Lightened and enlivened by expert direction from Joe Winkler and subtle performances from a talented cast, the show lands gracefully on its feet.

Set in the Mississippi Delta circa 1955, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a portrait of a wealthy Southern family stricken by calamity and avarice. Firebrand patriarch Big Daddy (in a bang-up performance by Tim Hayes) is celebrating his 65th birthday blithely unaware that his recent spate of cancer tests has proved his case terminal. His family has withheld the bad news from him to preserve his fleeting happiness and to better compete for his considerable fortune.

Framing Big Daddy’s story are the verbal pyrotechnics of ex-football star and alcoholic son Brick (an affable Argo Thompson) and his hot-to-trot, bottle-blond wife, Maggie (an electrifying Danielle Cain), who are going at it tooth and nail over Brick’s possible past homosexuality and resolute avoidance of sex with her. To complicate matters, Brick’s lawyer brother, Gooper (Robert Conrad), and his perpetually pregnant wife, Mae (Libby Lee), are doing their damnedest to ingratiate their way into the dying man’s will.

Cain steals the show with her spry Maggie–an incredibly well-drawn, intelligent, sexy, and (of course) catlike study of a belle-gone-bad. Cain invests Maggie with a complexity often overlooked in the character. Lesser actresses are waylaid by Southern stereotypes and trick accents, but Cain cleverly shades her portrayal with subtle gestures–a wry smile here, a batted lash there. This Maggie nears perfection.

Trading quips quid pro quo with Maggie is Thompson’s adroitly conceived malcontent Brick. Like Cain, Thompson also steers free of reductive Southern caricature and extracts a compelling character from the Williams text. The chemistry between these two is as combustible as it is alluring, especially when Maggie begins to claw at the house of cards that is Brick’s psyche with increasingly aggressive swipes at his heterosexual self-image.

Hayes’ blustering Big Daddy is a stunning portrait of male power in slow fade, a sauntering, wheezy machine blathering toward inevitable demise. Laurie Work makes an appealing stage debut with her warm, understated portrayal of Big Daddy’s compulsively adoring wife.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a successful opener for Actors’ Theatre’s 15th season and certainly bodes well for the company’s upcoming shows. Let this Cat cross your path.

Actors’ Theatre’s production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof plays through Aug. 29 at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa. Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Tickets are $6-$12. 523-4185.

From the July 30-Aug. 5, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

© Metro Publishing Inc.

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