Cameron Watson directs two equally sensational ensembles in Antaeus Theatre Company’s pitch-perfect intimate revival of Tennessee Williams’ Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, not only one of the finest productions now playing around town but (sound the trumpets!) the very first to grace the brand-spanking-new Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center in Beautiful Downtown Glendale.
Williams’ now legendary 1955 drama unfolds in real time over the course of a single evening at the Mississippi plantation home of “Big Daddy” Pollitt, a multimillionaire tycoon who has recently undergone a battery of tests to determine the nature of some pretty darned painful abdominal pains.
To his great relief, doctors have informed Big Daddy and his wife “Big Mama” that it’s nothing but a spastic colon; in fact, the patriarch is suffering from incurable, inoperable cancer, and is unlikely to live all that much longer.
Big Daddy’s family has gathered together this evening to celebrate his 65th birthday and later, when the time is right, to break the news of Big Daddy’s actual condition to Big Mama, who will be needing the support of Big Daddy’s and her two sons now more than ever.
There’s older son, successful businessman Gooper, aka “Brother Man,” married to “Sister Woman” Mae with a gaggle of bratty children in tow and another on the way.
Unlike his older brother’s marriage, Brick’s is a childless one, a fact that leaves Maggie feeling like a “cat on a hot tin roof” in more ways than one as her husband spends his nights imbibing drink after drink in order to feel the “click” that will make being alive bearable.
Those whose only familiarity with Cat On A Hot Tin Roof is from Richard Brooks’ sanitized, de-gayed 1958 film adaptation, shot at the height of the MPAA Production Code, will be surprised at how truly adult Williams’ script is, especially in the 1974 Broadway revival form offered by Antaeus and which Williams considered definitive.
And speaking of definitive, revivals don’t get any more so than Antaeus’s, Watson directing with fire and flair while allowing each of his two superb rotating casts, rehearsed in partnership, to develop their own unique takes on Williams’ iconic roles.
The Buttered Biscuits: In her tenth collaboration with director Watson, Rebecca Mozo sizzles like never before, from quiet flame to burning rage, Maggie’s pain and desire never far beneath the surface, and Ross Philips’ all-American boy-next-door appeal combined with his revealing look at Brick’s darker torments adds up to an especially inspired bit of casting.
Harry Groener more than makes up for a less physically intimidating build than some Big Daddys before him with a performance of terrifying intensity that is equally powerful in the Southern scion’s quieter moments. As for Dawn Didawick’s Big Mama, the real-life Mrs. Groener makes her petite stature work, and then some, giving us a woman justifiably intimidated by her husband’s relentless bullying, then unexpectedly forceful when unleashing the lioness inside.
Patrick Wenk-Wolff’s terrific Gooper tries so hard to be liked that it’s both amusing and painful to see him fail so miserably, with Jocelyn Towne’s equally marvelous, deliciously tightly-wound Mae offering eager if sadly ineffectual wifely support.
The Hoppin’ Johns: The quicksilver brilliance of Linda Park’s Maggie opposite the dark-and-smoldering power of Daniel Bess’s Brick make the real-life marrieds’ pairing a particular sizzler and never more so than when Williams’ script allows both dormant human volcanoes to erupt with anger, frustration, hatred, and perhaps even love.
And speaking of Tennessee, the playwright could easily have imagined the perfectly matched Mike McShane’s raging bulldozer of a Big Daddy and Julia Fletcher’s big-boned firecracker of a Big Mama when writing the roles, and each ignites the stage whether cowing or being cowed, particularly when McShane reveals Big Daddy’s vulnerability and Fletcher the wife who will would tigers for her man.
Michael Kirby’s baby-faced good-ol’-boy Goober is another winner (even if Goober himself isn’t, at least in his father’s eye) and Tamara Krinsky is a hoot as the ever eavesdropping Mae, who dares to call Maggie on her cattiness when she’s the cattiest schemer of them all
Mitchell Edmonds/John DeMita and Tim Halligan/Robert Pine deliver finely-turned cameos as Reverend Tooker and Dr. Baugh, with Vivienne Belle Sievers/Helen Rose Warshofsky and Henry Greenspan/Eliza LeMoine making for a pair of scene-stealing 1950s-style no-neck monsters in their respective casts.
Scenic designer Steven C. Kemp gives this Cat a surreal look and feel, Brick and Maggie’s bedroom furniture getting moved about during blackouts so that each of the play’s three acts, despite taking place entirely in continuous time, reveals the action from a different perspective, an effect enhanced by Jared A. Sayeg’s gorgeously vibrant, subtly morphing lighting design.
Jeff Gardner’s crackerjack sound design provides a just-right mix of bluesy mood-setting music, dramatic effects, and the recorded voices of Zuri Adele, Larry Powell, Jason Turner, and Karen Molina White. Terri A. Lewis’s fabulous ‘50s costumes and Erin Walley’s pitch-perfect period props (including liquor bottles and glasses galore) complete a striking production design.
Kristin Weber is production stage manager. Chandler Reed is assistant stage manager. Portia Juliette is assistant director.
Additional program credits are shared by Tracy Winters (dialect coach), Orlando de la Paz (scenic artist), Adam Meyer (production managers), Rene Parras Jr. (assistant technical director), Bo Foxworth (fight director) and Chris Osborne (production electrician).
You may have seen Cat On A Hot Tin Roof before, but you’ve probably never seen it staged with the uniform power and punch it is given by Antaeus Theatre Company. That audiences can discover the Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center while rediscovering this Tennessee Williams masterpiece is icing on Big Daddy’s birthday cake.
The Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center, 112 110 East Broadway, Glendale. Through May 7. Thursdays and Fridays at 8:00. Saturdays at 2:00 and 8:00. Sundays at 2:00. Reservations: 818 506-1983
March 26, 2017
Photos: Steven C. Kemp