Tiger by the tail

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

By Tennessee Williams
Directed by Lane Savadove
Gallery Players, Brooklyn
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by David Mackler

No one writes melodramas like Tennessee Williams did, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is one of his punchiest. Stylized dialogue that is breathtakingly real - full of repetitions, self-delusions, and smack-on directness. Director Lane Savadove mounted a strong production at the OOBR-Award winning Gallery Players, but he also added some extraneous touches. The main strength was in the lead performances, which were completely absorbing even when their approach seemed wrongheaded.

There were two kinds of performances - the more naturalistic approach of Kristi Casey (Maggie), Rick Plaugher (Brick) and Richard V. Licata (Big Daddy), and the more garish style of Stephanie D. Adams (Big Mama) and Julie Connors (Mae). If it didn't mesh seamlessly, it was still very effective to have the more hysterical characters behave, well, hysterically. Connors, with her pigeon-toed stance, flapping arms and red slash of a mouth, had infinite ways of showing Mae's panic at her children's being passed over by Big Daddy, and Adams did indeed have a steely determination when she fully grasped the significance of the cards she has been dealt.

Casey's Maggie, though, was no cat - she was a full-grown, fully formed stalking tiger. She sees Brick quite clearly, but can't find a way to get through to him - she is alternately charming, coquettish, brazen, and angry. It was quite a sight to watch this hard, large animal try to get past Brick's ill-hidden contempt. Casey's performance in the play's first act (which is practically a Maggie-monologue) was all highly pitched, but it was hard not to watch. Her panic and determination were palpable. In another world, this Maggie would be CEO of her own corporation.

Plaugher's Brick not only had the "charm of the defeated" (as Maggie put it), but the fury as well. He wisely understated and underplayed it, but this unmistakable emotion was the key to his power. It was plain to see why most of the other characters (his mother, father, wife, the unseen Skipper) would all be in love with him. No one could get through to him, so of course he's irresistible.

These characters all have an extraordinary combination of self-awareness and massive denial, and this was the centerpiece to the second act "conversation" between Brick and Big Daddy. Licata, as Big Daddy, expertly navigated the tricky course of decrying and exemplifying the failings of humankind. Mendacity, chiefly, but none so unforgivable as the cancer he denies is attacking from within. His defeated demeanor at the end, and his acceptance of Maggie's transparent lie, made one think "The King is dead. Long live the King!"

Savadove did some imaginative staging on Todd Reemtsma's set design, which made good use of the raised section at the back of the large stage. Unfortunately, he also interpolated some fanciful pre- and post-act scenes, lit only by starlight, suggesting a heavy-handed connection between Jack Straw and Peter Ochello, the loving men of the plantation who took Big Daddy in when he was a young man, and Brick and Skipper. Equally heavy-handed were the '50s songs. Judy Holliday singing "Trouble is a Man" seemed far too knowing for this clan. Also with John Michael Norman (as a finally strong Gooper), Sara Barnett and Rebecca Sokoll (as the no-neck monsters), Todd Lemieux, Ryan Hecht, and Kenneth Bing. Lighting design by Todd Reemtsma, costumes (well-suited to the characterizations) by Deborah Spiroff Carino, sound by Glen Tarachou.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 1
Acting: 2
Set: 2
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 1999 David Mackler