Morosco Theatre, (3/24/1955 - 11/17/1956)
217 W. 45th St., New York, NYSeats (approximate): 955
Opening: Mar 24, 1955
Closing: Nov 17, 1956
Total Performances: 694
Category: Play, Drama, Original, BroadwaySetting: A bed-sitting room and section of the gallery of a plantation home in the Mississippi Delta. An evening in summer.
Theatre Owned by The Shubert Organization; Theatre Operated by City Playhouses, Inc. (Louis A. Lotito, President)
Produced by The Playwrights' Company (Maxwell Anderson; Robert Anderson; Elmer Rice; Robert E. Sherwood; Roger L. Stevens; John F. Wharton)
Written by Tennessee Williams
Staged by Elia Kazan
Scenic Design by Jo Mielziner; Lighting Design by Jo Mielziner; Costume Design by Lucinda Ballard; Assistant Designer to Jo Mielziner: John Harvey; Assistant to Lucinda Ballard: Florence Klotz
Business Manager: Victor Samrock; Company Manager: Ben Rosenberg
Production Stage Manager: Robert Downing; Stage Manager: Daniel Broun; Assistant Stage Mgr: Richard Durham
Press Representative: William Fields; Associate Press Representative: Walter Alford and Reginald Denenholz; Assistant to Mr. Kazan: Marguerite Lamkin and Jean Stein; Production Assistant: Malcolm Wells
Opening Night Cast
Barbara Bel Geddes
R. G. Armstrong
Eva Vaughn Smith
Broadhurst Theatre, 235 W. 44th Street
New York, NY 10036
Tuesday at 7pmWednesday through Saturday at 8pm
Wednesday and Saturday at 2pm
Sunday at 3pm
Time Change:Sunday, June 15 at 2pm
Preview: Feb 12, 2008
Total Previews: 27
Opening: Mar 6, 2008
Closing: Jun 22, 2008
Total Performances: 125
Lighting Designer - William H. Grant III
Composer (Original Music) - Andrew Allen
Director - Debbie Allen
Costume Designer - Jane Greenwood
Scenic Designer - Ray Klausen
Hair Designer - Charles G. LaPointe
Sound Designer - John Shivers
Skye Jasmine Allen-Mcbean - Sonny
Lisa Arrindell Anderson - Mae (Sister Woman)
Bethany Butler - Household Staff, Mae (Understudy)(Sister Woman), Maggie (Understudy)
Marissa Chisolm - Trixie
Giancarlo Esposito - Gooper (Brother Man)
Lynda Gravátt - Big Mama (Understudy)
Marja Harmon - Sookey, Mae (Understudy)(Sister Woman), Maggie (Understudy)
Heaven Howard - Dixie
Terrence Howard - Brick
Clark Jackson - Lacey, Dr. Baugh (Understudy), Gooper (Understudy)(Brother Man), Rev. Tooker (Understudy)
James Earl Jones - Big Daddy
Lou Myers - Rev. Tooker
Phylicia Rashad - Big Mama
Robert Christopher Riley - Household Staff, Brick (Understudy), Lacey (Understudy), Rev. Tooker (Understudy)
Anika Noni Rose - Maggie
Count Stovall - Dr. Baugh, Big Daddy (Understudy)
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Theatre Review by Matthew Murray - March 6, 2008
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams. Directed by Debbie Allen. Set design by Ray Klausen. Costume design by Jane Greenwood. Lighting design by William H. Grant III. Sound design by John H. Shivers. Hair design by Charles G. Lapointe. Cast: Terrence Howard, Phylicia Rashad, Anika Noni Rose, and James Earl Jones, with Lisa Arrindell Anderson, Lou Myers, Count Stovall, and Giancarlo Esposito, Bethany Butler, Marissa Chisolm, Marja Harmon, Heaven Howard, Clark Jackson, Skye Jasmine, Allen-McBean Robert, Christopher Riley.Theatre: Broadhurst Theatre, 235 West 44th Street between Broadway and 8th AvenueSchedule: Tuesday at 7 pm, Wednesday through Saturday at 8 pm, Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm, Sunday at 3 pmRunning Time: 2 hours 45 minutes, including two 12 minute intermissions.Audience: May be inappropriate for 10 and under. (Strong language.) Children under the age of 4 are not permitted in the theatre.Ticket price: Orchestra and Mezzanine (Rows A-J) $96.50, Mezzanine (Rows K-L) $66.50. Wednesday matinees: Orchestra and Mezzanine (Rows A-J) $86.50, Mezzanine (Rows K-L): $61.50.Tickets: Telecharge
Look out, cat fight!
We've long known about self-professed claw-bearer Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, the absorbing family drama about life's mercurial mendacities. But who knew there was another feline lurking in the shadows? In the third act of the new revival at the Broadhurst, the prospect of losing her share of Big Daddy Pollitt's $80 million inheritance gives Maggie's scrappy sister-in-law and nemesis Mae reason enough to get her own fur in a twist. When the two turn on each other, all but arching their backs and hissing, you half expect the gloves - and perhaps more - to come off, and the blood to start spurting onto the audience.
This is Tennessee Williams?
Darned if I know. The likes of Maggie and Mae, their husbands Brick and Gooper, and parental overseers Big Daddy and Big Mama are familiar from other renderings of Williams's 1955 masterpiece of tangled lives and lies in the fading Deep South. But as interpreted by director Debbie Allen and a cast including such talents as James Earl Jones, Phylicia Rashad, Terrence Howard, and Anika Noni Rose, this Cat suggests less searing theatre than it does Good Times Goes Southern.
The reason for the change is not quite the one you might surmise. The semi-stunt, wholly African-American casting caused more stirs at its initial announcement months ago than it does onstage. You have no particular trouble understanding how Big Daddy (Jones) rose to his position of prominence as a plantation owner on "28,000 acres of the richest land this side of the Valley Nile"; in fact, his skin color lends tantalizing new possibilities to the selection of positions he may have held on the grounds when he worked them.
It's not hard, then, to accept the other Pollitts. Big Mama (Rashad) is the bulldozer of a wife and mother, whose expectations of family and continuation are realized more in their greedy son Gooper (Giancarlo Esposito) and his wife Mae (Lisa Arrindell Anderson) than in the alcoholic Brick (Howard) and his wife Maggie (Rose), who can barely stand to share a bed anymore.
Maggie's complaints about escaping poverty for society take on a resonance when spoken by a young, beautiful black woman that they don't when uttered by a white bombshell - you can't help but assume the two have very different ideas of growing up poor. Likewise, you see more hurdles in the life of former football star Brick than just the ones he stumbled over to leg-breaking effect the previous night; his reluctance to disrupt his station and his family with his drinking and depression over the loss of his friend Skipper (who may have been more than just a friend) come from a more fraught place than they typically seem to with the brooding white actors so often cast in the role.
But if the concept is not an immediate bust, it's also not a sure sell. The last Broadway revival, in 2003, played it safe with a chilly but traditional take, starry actors (Ashley Judd, Jason Patric, and Ned Beatty led the company), and a deflating, defeated atmosphere. Allen avoids those pitfalls, but falls into another by not preventing truth from seeping away under the steady heat of her concept.
From the opening image, in which a blues saxophonist (Gerald Hayes) blows his way across Ray Klausen's bordello-boudoir set while a half-naked Howard mimes showering in half-light, it's obvious the evening's aims are not to shatter myths about Southern propriety. Soon after, when Maggie begins her prowling about Brick while primping for Big Daddy's impending birthday party, Allen gives more open, teasing, and deliberate focus to Rose's steamy sex appeal than has been the case with any other production I've seen. Worse, Rose's orange-steamroller delivery of her act-length declamation of discontent so overwhelms the serenely stolid Howard, his helpless disinterest becomes literally comic.
It's not an isolated incident. Allen has let comedy run rampant, allowing - if not outright encouraging - peals of laughter in unthinkable places, as if everything has been approached in the manner of a black sitcom. Which one? Take your pick. Maggie pouts, Brick grunts, and it's a rerun of Married... with Children. Esposito's sly play for Big Daddy's fortune has more than a few shades of a subdued Martin Lawrence. And I'm positive I saw Maggie and Mae's showdown played out on any number of episodes of Family Matters (though Steve Urkel has thankfully stayed away).
While none of this is ideal for a play that thrives within its social and sexual subtexts, it does sometimes hit its targets. The lengthy second-act confrontation between Brick and Big Daddy, in which son faces up to Skipper's ghost and father to his own crumbling body, is as arresting as the rest of the production is shallow. This is greatly helped by Howard, whose slow, specific speech patterns mark his Brick as accepting his own truth for the first time, creating an unusually realistic rendering of a man too often seen as disposable.
Too few of the other performances compare. Rose has never looked more gorgeous or more self-assured, but her one-note rendition of Maggie's layered concerns is not befitting this Tony Award-winning musical actress (for Caroline, or Change, in 2004). Rashad, who is Allen's sister, is lurching, broad, and unbearable; utterly absent is the icy temerity she's brought to recent stage roles in A Raisin in the Sun (for which she won a Tony Award) and Bernarda Alba, replaced by curious gropes toward the Aunt Jemima stereotype she's shunned her entire career. Esposito and Anderson convey industriousness but nothing else during their brief moments of prominence.
As for Jones, he's exactly the fulcrum this unsteady crew needs for balance. The libidinous glint in his eye when Big Daddy, believing he's dodged cancer's bullet, makes plans for conquering more territory (of the young, fresh, female variety) in his remaining 15 or 20 years, tells you all you need to know about what brought Big Daddy to the top - and what will keep him there until God strikes him down. (That Voice, and his mountain-like physical presence, convince you it can't really be any time soon. Doctors reports, alas, don't always agree.)
His Big Daddy tinged with not even a hint of self-pity, Jones is unforgiving, unforgettable, and irreplaceable as a man of means who's also uncomfortably mortal. But his outward bravado doesn't completely fool anyone - including himself. "The human animal is a beast that dies," he acknowledges to his son in a moment of self-realization and therapeutic necessity. Not so, at least for Jones: In this Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, the man that's dying is the only one who's ever recognizably alive.
Yet Another Life for Maggie the Cat
By BEN BRANTLEY
Published: March 7, 2008
Those eternal adversaries, irresistible force and immovable object, clash with gusto in the first act of the otherwise flabby revival of Tennessee Williams’s “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” which opened Thursday night at the Broadhurst Theater.
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Times Topics: Tennessee Williams
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Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
Phylicia Rashad and James Earl Jones in a new production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” directed by Debbie Allen.
The irresistible part of the equation is embodied most persuasively by Anika Noni Rose as that determined Southern seductress Maggie the Cat. Taking on the immovable duties is Terrence Howard, in his Broadway debut, as Brick, Maggie’s self-anesthetized husband.
Watching Maggie test her will of fire against Brick’s Scotch-glazed shield of ice sends off such lively sparks that for the show’s first 40 minutes or so you wonder if this might not be the most entertaining “Cat” since Elizabeth Ashley had her way with Keir Dullea more than three decades ago. But as any of Williams’s disappointed characters could tell you, life is full of pretty hopes that fade before your eyes.
It’s starting to feel as if “Cat,” first staged in 1955, has become as frequent a visitor to Broadway as “Rigoletto” is to the Metropolitan Opera. The previous revival, starring Ashley Judd, Jason Patric and Ned Beatty, closed only four years ago. But this melodrama of Southern-fried mendacity, Williams’s personal favorite, is blessed with temptingly juicy roles that larger-than-life actors can’t wait to squeeze.
So there was reason to be excited when this latest incarnation, directed by Debbie Allen, was announced. And not, at least for me, because of the novelty of an all-black cast. (By transporting the play from the 1950s and the age of Jim Crow to a later, unspecified decade, Ms. Allen wisely pushes past the issue of race.)
What sounded promising was the matching of performers and roles. James Earl Jones, of the earth-shaking baritone and overpowering stature, as the tyrannical, filthy-rich Big Daddy; Phylicia Rashad, who won a Tony as the long-suffering matriarch in the recent revival of “A Raisin in the Sun,” as his long-suffering wife: it was as if these parts were their birthrights.
Most tantalizing of all was the idea of Mr. Howard as their alcoholic son, Brick. Mr. Howard brought an eye-opening freshness to the perennial screen archetype of the sensitive but manly brooder in his Oscar-nominated turn as a small-time pimp in “Hustle & Flow.” The big question, it seemed, was whether Ms. Rose, hitherto known as an able supporting actress (“Caroline, or Change” and the film version of “Dreamgirls”), would be able to hold her own in such daunting company.
As it turns out, Ms. Rose more than holds her own. She pretty much runs the show whenever she’s onstage, and when she’s not, the show misses her management. Mr. Howard and Mr. Jones have moments that suggest what they might have made (and possibly still could make) of their roles. And Ms. Rashad presents a creditable, if arguably misconceived, Big Mama. But this time it’s Maggie who rules the Pollitt family’s dusty old house of lies.
Ms. Rose’s Maggie is less ornately stylized than earlier versions (including Ms. Ashley’s and Kathleen Turner’s, as well as Elizabeth Taylor’s in the 1958 film), and she more or less ignores Williams’s baroque descriptions of the character’s changes in timber and tempo. But what Ms. Rose grasps, with riveting firmness and clarity, is Maggie’s hard-driving sense of purpose.
Maggie, as you may recall, has an exceptionally clear through line for a Williams character. She has to make her husband, long absent from her bed, have sex with her again. This is because: 1) she really loves him; 2) a woman has her needs; 3) if she doesn’t conceive a child, it’s possible that the estate of the terminally ill Big Daddy will go to his other son, Gooper (Giancarlo Esposito), who has an annoyingly fertile and conniving wife (Lisa Arrindell Anderson).
It’s the hot-and-bothered aspect of Maggie that originally made “Cat” a succès de scandale. But it was her unyielding will to survive that most interested Williams.
Though Ms. Rose wears a slinky slip as beguilingly as Ms. Taylor did, it’s her take-charge energy and unembarrassed directness that make this Maggie such a stimulating presence. When she exclaims, “Maggie the cat is alive!,” you can only nod in admiring agreement.
The play’s first act has always been Maggie’s, an aria of insistence and supplication directed at Brick, who, having broken his leg, is a captive audience. But what a perfect audience Mr. Howard’s Brick is here, doing his best (and understandably failing) to tune out a wife who keeps prodding open wounds — like his suspicious closeness to his best friend, Skipper.
Brick is often played in the first act with robotic disaffection. Mr. Howard is more visibly amused, disgusted and drunk than any Brick I’ve seen. You’re always aware that the click into numbness he aspires to has yet to arrive, lending a livelier than usual dynamic to his avoidance of Maggie.
The problem is that by the second act, when Big Daddy and Brick confront the truth together, Mr. Howard is wearing his character’s pain all too palpably, mopping his eyes and tearfully bleating his lines. This turns Brick into a wounded little boy instead of the willfully numbed creature he must be to challenge Big Daddy into anger.
As a consequence Mr. Jones is forced to play his character as a blustery but affectionate fellow whose vulgarity masks a good heart, not so different from the lovable codger he recently portrayed in “On Golden Pond.” Ms. Rashad, in turn, seems to grow in supportive strength and mother-knows-best wisdom. The production acquires a haze of sentimentality that makes it soft when it should be sharp. The same might be said of Ms. Allen’s direction. There’s plenty of life in her staging, which keeps an army of Pollitts and servants, assembled for Big Daddy’s birthday, running around Ray Klausen’s standard-issue Southern-mansion set. There is even, for reasons beyond my ken, a saxophone player (Gerald Hayes) who struts across the stage before each act.
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Anika Noni Rose as Maggie in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."
Times Topics: Tennessee Williams
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James Earl Jones and Terrence Howard in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."
The resulting atmosphere is festive, for sure, and the show is never boring. But too often it’s without focus. Ms. Allen tries to resolve the problem by having her principal characters awkwardly spotlighted for their defining soliloquies. (William H. Grant III did the oddly abrupt lighting.) But she needs to rein in her cast.
Mr. Esposito, Ms. Anderson and even on occasion Mr. Jones resort to broad exaggeration more appropriate to a sitcom. And Mr. Howard is allowed to punctuate Brick’s speeches with slackening silences of interior exploration on which the audience is not invited to accompany him.
I will admit that I have yet to see a perfectly balanced “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” What I recall of Anthony Page’s version in 2003 is Mr. Beatty’s magnificent Big Daddy.
But Williams wrote that with “Cat” he was “trying to catch the true quality of experience in a group of people, that cloudy, flickering, evanescent — fiercely charged! — interplay of live human beings in the thundercloud of a common crisis.” The only fiercely charged element at the Broadhurst is Ms. Rose’s Maggie. This “Cat” cries out for more lightning.
ANTA Playhouse, (9/24/1974 - 2/8/1975)
245 W. 52nd St., New York, NY
Seats (approximate): 1222
Preview: Sep 22, 1974
Total Previews: 2
Opening: Sep 24, 1974
Closing: Feb 8, 1975
Total Performances: 160
Category: Play, Drama, Revival, BroadwaySetting: A delta plantation, 1954.
Theatre Owned / Operated by The American National Theatre and Academy
Produced by ANTA (Robert Whitehead, Managing Director)
Originally produced by The American Shakespeare Theatre (Michael Kahn: Artistic Director)
Written by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Michael Kahn
Scenic Design by John Conklin; Costume Design by Jane Greenwood; Lighting Design by Marc B. Weiss
General Manager: Oscar Olesen
Production Stage Manager: Edward P. Dimond; Stage Manager: Robert Horen
General Press Representative: Seymour Krawitz; Associate Press Representative: Patricia McLean Krawitz; Photographer: Martha Swope; Advertising: Lawrence Weiner and Associates
Opening Night Cast
Standbys: Caroline McWilliams (Mae, Maggie), Michael Zaslow (Brick).
Understudies: Amy Borress (Dixie), Carol Gustafson (Big Mama), Robert Horen (Dr. Baugh, Rev. Tooker), William Larsen (Big Daddy).
Eugene O'Neill Theatre, (3/21/1990 - 8/1/1990)
230 W. 49th St., New York, NY
Seats (approximate): 1108
Preview: Mar 14, 1990
Total Previews: 9
Opening: Mar 21, 1990
Closing: Aug 1, 1990
Total Performances: 149
Category: Play, Drama, Revival, BroadwaySetting: A bed-sitting room and section of the gallery of a plantation home in the Mississippi Delta, an evening in summer.
Theatre Owned / Operated by Jujamcyn Theaters (James H. Binger: Chairman; Rocco Landesman: President)
Produced by Barry & Fran Weissler; Associate Producer: Alecia Parker; Produced in association with Jujamcyn Theaters, James Cushing and Maureen O'Sullivan Cushing
Written by Tennessee Williams; Incidental music by Ilona Sekacz
Directed by Howard Davies
Scenic Design by William Dudley; Costume Design by Patricia Zipprodt; Lighting Design by Mark Henderson; Sound Design by T. Richard Fitzgerald; Hair Design by Robert DiNiro; Associate Lighting Design: Beverly Emmons
General Manager: Charlotte Wilcox; Company Manager: Robert H. Wallner
Technical Supervisor: Arthur Siccardi; Production Stage Manager: Patrick Horrigan; Stage Manager: Betsy Nicholson; Assistant Stage Mgr: Ron Brice
Sound Effects Programming by Dan Tramon
Casting: Stuart Howard and Amy Schecter; Press Representative: Shirley Herz Associates; Advertising: Grey Entertainment & Media; Speech and Dialect Coach: Sam Chwat
Opening Night Cast
Daniel Hugh Kelly
Debra Jo Rupp
Billy L. Sullivan
Seth Jerome Walker
Understudies: Suzy Bouffard (Dixie), Jerome Dempsey (Big Daddy), Mary Layne (Mae, Maggie), John Newton (Dr. Baugh, Rev. Tooker), Tom Stechschulte (Brick, Gooper)
'Big Daddy' Ferrets Out Truth in 'Cat'
March 22, 1990MICHAEL KUCHWARA, ASSOCIATED PRESS
NEW YORK — Yes, Kathleen Turner is a tough, sexy and even funny Maggie in the respectable, occasionally riveting, revival of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" that opened Wednesday at Broadway's Eugene O'Neill Theater.
But the heart of Tennessee Williams' Southern-fried Gothic melodrama belongs to Big Daddy, the dying patriarch of "28,000 acres of the richest land this side of the valley Nile.
Played with remarkable control by Charles Durning, Big Daddy is a seeker of truth, and truth is what "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" is all about. The truth has kept Maggie and her alcoholic husband, Brick, apart. Brick, Big Daddy's favorite son, is an aging golden boy whose luster has begun to tarnish. He drinks his days away, hoping to hear "the click" that will help him forget a promising football career and the relationship he had with Skipper, his now-dead best friend.
The truth is what everyone is trying to hide from Big Daddy who has been told his stomach troubles are nothing more than a spastic colon. But reality is revealed in a long second act confrontation between Brick and Big Daddy. The father forces his son to look into the past and the son inadvertently tells the father about the future.
It's a powerful moment, particularly as played by Durning and Daniel Hugh Kelly as the doomed Brick. Brick is something of a cipher, but Kelly manages to make him a sympathetic person. And Durning is at his best, alternatively flamboyant and sensitive. It's a remarkable juggling act.
Turner controls the play's first and third acts. There's an intelligence and a steely determination to her portrayal of Maggie, particularly when she is defending her own interests.
Director Howard Davies' approach to the play is traditional. There are no surprises or revelations but then nothing goes wrong either.
What other critics said:
Frank Rich, The New York Times: It takes nothing away from Kathleen Turner's radiant Maggie in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" to say that Broadway's gripping new production of Tennessee Williams' 1955 play will be most remembered for Charles Durning's Big Daddy.
Clive Barnes, New York Post: Turner, mocking yet fearful, sassily funny yet itchy with desires that go beyond sex, and the all but innocent victim of a family in perpetual and hateful crisis, is giving a performance to cherish, in a play to revalue.
David Richards, Washington Post: This Maggie is more a tiger lily than a magnolia. While Turner's vigor guarantees a good, scrappy fight to the finish, it also contributes to the poetic shortfall.
Music Box Theatre, (11/2/2003 - 3/7/2004)
239 W. 45th St., New York, NYSeats (approximate): 1025
Preview: Oct 9, 2003
Total Previews: 28
Opening: Nov 2, 2003
Closing: Mar 7, 2004
Total Performances: 145
Theatre Owned / Operated by The Shubert Organization (Gerald Schoenfeld: Chairman; Philip J. Smith: President; Robert E. Wankel: Executive Vice President) and The Estate of Irvin Berlin
Produced by Bill Kenwright; Presented through special arrangement with University of the South
Written by Tennessee Williams; Incidental music by Neil McArthur
Directed by Anthony Page
Scenic Design by Maria Björnson; Costume Design by Jane Greenwood; Lighting Design by Howard Harrison; Sound Design by Christopher Cronin; Wig Design by Tom Watson; Associate Scenic Design: Michael Brown; Associate Costume Design: MaryAnn D. Smith; Assistant Costume Design: Wade Laboissonniere; Associate Lighting Design: Robert Halliday; Assistant to the Sound Designer: William Lewis
General Manager: Lisa M. Poyer and Robert Cole Productions, Inc.; Company Manager: G. Eric Muratalla
Production Stage Manager: Susie Cordon; Stage Manager: Allison Sommers; Technical Supervisor: Gene O'Donovan and Aurora Productions
Casting: Pat McCorkle; Fight direction by Rick Sordelet; Vocal Coach: Charlotte Fleck; Press Representative: Philip Rinaldi Publicity; Advertising: The Eliran Murphy Group, Ltd.; Assistant to the Director: Kahan James; Marketing: HHC Marketing; Photographer: Joan Marcus; Poster Photo: Jean-Marie Guyaux and Hugo Glendinning
Opening Night Cast
(Oct 9, 2003-Feb 22, 2004)
Jason Patric Broadway debut
Amy Hohn Broadway debut
Margo Martindale Broadway debut
Pamela Jane Henning Broadway debut
Isabella Mehiel Broadway debut
Edwin C. Owens
Murieann Phelan Broadway debut
Zachary Ross Broadway debut
Charles Saxton Broadway debut
Jo Twiss Broadway debut
Standby: Ted Koch (Brick).
Understudies: Starla Benford (Lacey), Patrick Collins (Dr. Baugh), Ted Koch (Gooper, Rev. Tooker), Kelly McAndrew (Mae, Maggie), Edwin C. Owens (Big Daddy), Jo Twiss (Big Mama).
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Theatre Review by Matthew Murray - November 2, 2003
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams. Directed by Anthony Page. Set design by Maria Björnson. Costume design by Jane Greenwood. Lighting design by Howard Harrison. Sound design by Christopher Cronin. Music composed by Neil McArthur. Cast: Ashley Judd, Jason Patric, Ned Beatty, with Margo Martindale, Michael Mastro, Amy Hohn, Edwin C. Owens, Patrick Collins, Alvin Keith, Starla Benford, Jo Twiss, Pamela Jane Henning, Isabella Mehiel, Muireann Phelan, Zachary Ross, Charles Saxton.Theatre: Music Box Theatre, 239 West 45th Street between Broadway and 8th AvenueRunning time: 2 hours 50 minutes with two 15-minute intermissionsAudience: May be inappropriate for ages 13 and under. Children under the age of 4 are not permitted in the theatre.Schedule: Tuesday at 7 PM, Wednesday through Saturday at 8 PM, Wednesday and Saturday at 2 PM, Sunday at 3 PM.Ticket price: $86.25Tickets: TelechargePremium Seating: Premium Seating at $151.25 per ticket ($126.25 for Wednesday matinees) is also available by calling the Telecharge Premium Desk at 212-239-6270.
It's always a bit rare in November to find the air as cold inside a theater as outside. At the Music Box, where a revival of Tennessee Williams's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof just opened, that seems to be exactly the case.
Well, much of the time anyway - the central heating does get turned on when Ned Beatty steps onstage. As Big Daddy, enterprising plantation owner and the patriarch of the Pollitt clan, Beatty's capable of melting the ice covering his fellow actors and much of the rest of Anthony Page's production when he makes an appearance.
While only somewhat imposing physically, Beatty's Big Daddy is emotionally towering, bearing the air of a man who truly has been through it all; he's earned his position in life with hard work, and he wants to hang onto it for as long as possible and leave it in good hands when he passes on. He's clearly the driving force, the generator from which the rest of the family's energy derives.
Or at least where it should derive. There's an alarming paucity of this feeling from every other actor on stage. Beatty's performance as the father of this unruly group is so clearly defined that it seems as if the other actors have forgotten their characters are supposed to be related to him.
In Williams's tense family drama, where every relationship and bond is suspect, the underlying recognition that these people are trapped by their blood is vital. It not only sustains the tension between the characters, but allows the story itself to make sense - this is a family where deception (or mendacity, to use a word often repeated during the play) is commonplace, so a successful production must articulate what has driven these people to this type of behavior.
Maggie is caught between her own uneven and unrewarding upbringing and the life of privilege that her marriage to Brick, Big Daddy's favored son, can afford her. But their union suffers in comparison, or so she thinks, to that of Brick's brother Gooper and his wife Mae, which puts her future in jeopardy. Brick has been driven to alcoholism by the untimely death of his best friend Skipper, in which he may have played a role, and is worried about how that death may reflect on him as a son and a man.
This is all exasperated by Big Daddy's medical condition - he believes (not without reason) that he's suffering only from a spastic colon, while the prognosis is indeed quite a bit worse. And, of course, everyone wants his or her fair share of Big Daddy's spoils: Maggie thinks everything will pass to her and Brick if they can conceive a child, while Gooper and Mae are determined to remind Big Daddy of all they have that Maggie and Brick do not.
The show's fragile plotting begins to disintegrate and disinterest when the ill-defined personalities of this production's characters become evident. Like the late Maria Björnson's scenic design, which finds every other board missing from every visible surface of Maggie and Brick's bedroom, many of the performers' portrayals seem little more than half there.
Jason Patric, for example, seems capable of delivering Brick's lines with only two different vocal inflections, and his emotional range seldom moves far beyond vague amusement on one end of the spectrum and mild annoyance on the other. The show's centerpiece scene, in which Big Daddy confronts Brick with his alcoholism and forces him to examine his relationship with Skipper (the homosexual underpinnings of which are left intentionally ambiguous), is stultifying and one-sided; Beatty invests his work with great need and love, while Patric reacts blankly.
This vital scene is completely ineffectual and its failure renders much of the rest of the production futile. Without concrete definition for Brick, Maggie cannot be fleshed out properly, and indeed she's not - Ashley Judd's Maggie never seems to be suffocating under the threat of mediocrity. Her watery nature reflects on the Gooper and Mae of Michael Mastro and Amy Hohn, who provide no real threat and look like buffoons played for comic relief rather than a frightening vision of Maggie's future.
Margo Martindale, as Big Mama, then looks even more ineffectual, and her performance, while decently emotional, reads as emotionally stilted and in no way commanding. The rest of the actors, in small roles, seem to recognize they are in bit parts and generally act accordingly - even the children don't suggest the "no-neck monsters" of which Maggie is so terrified. Only Beatty defines his character well, but as he's present mostly in the second act and for only a few brief moments in the third, there may as well be a blinking "vacancy" sign atop the proscenium arch most of the rest of the time.
Jane Greenwood's costumes are nice enough, and Howard Harrison's lighting (when not trying to depict fireworks) well captures a southern summer, but the south's oppressive heat and the dynamics of these complicated relationships must come out in the performances and the direction, and they simply don't. The work of Page and most of his actors suggests that the cat of the title would more likely freeze to the roof, at least when Beatty's not around to heat things up.
Broadway Cat Digs in Claws Through March 14
By Robert Simonson14 Jan 2004
Ned Beatty and Ashley Judd in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
The Music Box Theatre revival of his classic Cat on a Hot Tin Roof will sit on its haunches until March 14, a spokesman confirmed. The limited run was to have closed on Feb. 22.
Heading the cast are Ashley Judd, as the frustrated, beautiful and determined Maggie the Cat; Jason Patric as her willfully alcoholic, unresponsive husband Brick; and Ned Beatty as the blustery and blunt redneck millionaire Big Daddy. The production also stars Margo Martindale as the cowed, but loving Big Mama; Michael Mastro as Brick's neglected brother, Gooper; and Amy Hohn as Gooper's baby-making, grasping wife Mae. Previews began Oct. 9, under the direction of Anthony Page. Bill Kenwright produces the limited engagement. The current mounting uses the script employed in the 1974 Broadway production. The play's third act has fluctuated from production to production. Williams adjusted his first draft after original director Elia Kazan demanded changes in the depictions of the three main characters. Both versions of act three were featured when the play was published. Williams revisited the script in 1974, created a new text which held on to elements of both the first and second drafts. Among the major changes: Big Daddy's return in the third act (he did not in the first version), and an increased frankness in the language.
Statement: Producing the Play
What are some of the problems presented by the script that must be addressed by any production? After reading the script i would have to say that the biggest problem would have to be the age of the characters. If the show was done here, at Sam Houston, there may be a problem trying to cast the characters of Big Daddy and Big Mama. The reason why i address this is because Big Daddy is in his mid to late 60's and Big Mama is right there behind him in age. Also, another problem with the script is will there be accents? The show is set in Mississippi and the accent there is very distingished from other state accents.
What are some of the problems that we, here at Sam Houston, would be faced with were we to produce your play on the upcoming UTC season? As i addressed earlier, the ages of Big Mama and Big Daddy are in their 60's. If the play were to be produced here, at Sam Houston, that would be a huge problem with casting. Would there be an open casting call for older men and women to audtion for the show? I believe there would have to be because I do not think a twenty two year old could pull of the part of either, let alone have the maturity in their voice and presence. Also, another problem would be casting Mae and Goopers 6 children. Once again, I believe that there should be an open audition, just like in The Full Monty. Also, another problem with producing the show at Sam Houston would be an all white cast or would we cast any race? As for the accents, I think being true to the script would be alittle too much for the accents. Mississippi accents are alittle hard to understand and if an actor rushes a line the audience would not understand what he or she just said. So I do not think accents are neccassary for a Sam Houston production.
Other Productions’ Solutions Based on what you have seen (pics) and read (reviews), how have other productions solved these problems? Well, considering I only used Broadway productions, they very easily solved the problems of casting with the ages of characters. Unlike a college production, thousands of actors, ageing in various years, audition for these productions. As for the race casting issue, the 2008 Broadway production was an all black cast with James Earl Jones and Terrance Howard. So casting at Sam Houston could go either way, go all white or have an interracial cast. There are many talented actors in the Theatre Department who would be perfect for Brick, Maggie, Mae and Gooper. The question, however, is would the director follow the script and have an all white cast, plus the two black servants Big Daddy hired, or would the director spice things up and take a risk and cast black actors as principle roles.
Critical Response How have the critics responded? Did they love the script? What about the production they reviewed? Why or why not? The critics were half and half with the production that they reviewd. To be fair though, they all loved the script, however, after seeing their production they were reviewing, the reviews speak otherwise. Take Matthew Murray's review for example, directed by Anthony Page. He liked the show until he talks about how an actor just looks blankly in response to another actor. He called it a "failure" and it was ineffective. However, for the 2008 Broadway production starring James Earl Jones, critics loved his performance as Big Daddy. They loved his voice and acting and stage presence. However, according to Matthew Murray, he did not like the production. He asked in his review if what he was watching was Tennessee Williams and he said "darned if i know." He brought the topic of the change in casting to an all black cast and how it stirred up people.