Last week, director Bennett Bonci brought Cat on a Hot Tin Roof to the St. Andrews stage. It’s the 65th Birthday of Big Daddy, the Delta’s biggest cotton-planter, and his family has travelled to the Pollitt family plantation to celebrate. However, unbeknownst to Big Daddy and Big Mama, this is likely to be the patriarch’s last, as he has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. It seems the news has been hidden from the couple by the rest of their family to spare them tragedy during the party, but as the play goes on, it becomes clear that each family member has their own agenda for Big Daddy’s famed estate that will soon be up for grabs. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof touches on the themes of alcoholism, mendacity, homosexuality, and death in the American south.
Overall, the production was satisfactory. The lights and sounds were simple, and did their job. The set was very impressive and, minus a door-jam whose fault fell to no one, worked beautifully with the production. The stage was cluttered and chaotic enough to capture the feel of busy southern reunions, which to me was all too real and I appreciated the wise use of the venue’s stage space.
The shows main detriment was its lack of flow. Some of these critiques may be credited to nerves, as it was the first night, but I found many of the cast’s mistakes clumsy and avoidable. In the first act, the majority of the plot is handed to the audience, requiring Maggie and Brick (played by Madeline Inskeep and Louis Catliff respectively) to be understood clearly. Unfortunately the performance disappointed due to the number of stops and hesitations for missed or misspoken lines. Considering that Maggie carries Act One’s energy almost entirely independently, the amount of these breaks in conversation took away from the build in dynamic. Not all of the actors were able to produce a comprehensible southern accent either. While this isn’t necessarily essential for all of the play’s characters, it is a necessity that every actor be understood. Unfortunately there were times when the speech became too fast or garbled to be coherent. This problem was most noticeable In Act I and Act III, in which characters with the need for speed are the ones primarily driving the plot. I do hope that these issues were resolved for the second and third performance, but line memorization and actor coherence are both things that should have been taken care of in rehearsals.
As the audience learns the “plot twist” (Big Daddy is dying) early on, the play is largely carried by good acting. The audience should feel compelled to both love and despise the people onstage, to even feel conflicted as to how they want the story to turn out. Some actors did a splendid job of connecting with the audience, with distinguished performances including Noah Liebmiller (Big Daddy) as a dominating, frightening, and dissatisfied head of family, and Eilidh MacKinnon (Big Mama) who played a very sympathetic version of a mother-hen in distress. By themselves, each actor stood out onstage and brought energy and drive to their scenes, but it was their interaction with each other that I found really engaging, making me hate and pity them to spectacular effect. Cat can be performed with the more insidious plot-lines (i.e. domestic abuse) omitted, but I think the director made a wise choice to include them with such a talented pair. Other notable performances were the children (Adam Spencer, Hannah Raymond-Cox, and Michael Arianas), who gave me nausea and flashbacks to family gatherings every time they were onstage, and Reverend Tooker (Jack Briggs) who added a bit of levity to the plot each appearance.
I do think Bonci had a good vision for this production. I’m very pleased that he chose to include and bring attention to the darker undertones of the play, as some of his actors were more than capable of playing them well. Whilst I had hoped for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof to have been more polished, and although it fell short of a great performance, the show was still enjoyable. Tennessee Williams is a daring venture for any team, and I appreciate the work of the cast and crew that brought Cat on a Hot Tin Roof to the stage.