Arlington Players Cat on a Hot Tin RoofBy McCall Doyle • Feb 2nd, 2009 • Category: Reviews
Thomas Jefferson Community Theater, Arlington, VA
$15/$12 Seniors and Juniors
Playing through February 14th
Reviewed January 30, 2009
There’s a reason that Tennessee Williams’ work isn’t performed all that often. It’s brilliant, thought-provoking, character-driven work. One needs a director with a fine hand, a versatile and vibrant cast, and a chemistry that cannot be forced. The Arlington Players have many things going for them, including a beautiful space and excellent technical resources. Unfortunately, those things aren’t enough to make this production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof come together.
The play takes place on the eve of Big Daddy Pollitt’s (Dan Yount) 65th birthday on the family plantation nestled in the heart of the Mississippi Delta. Everyone knows that Big Daddy is dying except Big Daddy and Big Mama. The family members each have their own agenda for keeping his terminal illness a secret, but mainly they’re after a major place in his will. Who deserves the plantation? Eldest son Gooper (Tim Gaffaney), a milquetoast lawyer with a brood mare of a wife, Mae (Karen Batra)? Or youngest son Brick (David Vargas), a handsome ex-football star with his own crosses to bear, not the least of which is his sexy, scheming wife, Maggie the Cat (Cassandra Hodziewich)?
It’s the type of gloomy, angst-ridden Southern drama in which Williams specialized. The characters are layered, not all that likable, and fascinating. His plays explore the darker side of human nature. Director Blakeman Brophy missed the mark on casting several key roles and on the overall tone of the show, making the nuanced craftsmanship broader, and allowing caricatures of these people to roam instead.
Act I is all about Maggie & Brick. The audience is a fly on the wall in their spacious bedroom, listening intently to a married couple clearly in the midst of a major emotional struggle. Hodziewich is a capable actress, fully committed to her role, and maintains a flawless Southern accent. But her Maggie is de-clawed. She is dispassionate, rarely finding moments to connect with and captivate Brick. Maggie must be wanton, flirtatious, falsely refined. She has to smolder to make her position plausible and to give credibility to Brick’s conflict. One must hate her for the things she’s done and pity her for her frantic need to maintain her hard-won position in society all at once. Instead, there’s no real impression, and the crucial longing and desperation never materialize. Vargas barely has lines in this opening act, having to play the strong silent type and rely on his two crutches…a real one for his recently broken ankle, and his never-ending supply of bourbon. Because the heat has been turned down so far, his hands are tied emotionally and it’s difficult to see what makes him tick until Act II.
Act II reveals the long, unspoken struggle between Big Daddy and Brick, and the unique dynamic their relationship has always held. Here is where the play finally takes off, and two tremendous talents shine. Vargas has the right look, sound (reminiscent of Paul Newman’s sultry inflections in the film version), and emotional range for Brick. He offers a sensational look at a young man tormented by his own demons, unhappy with his failed career, his wife, the death of his best friend Skipper, his own desperate reliance on alcohol to numb the pain. Yount’s Big Daddy is magnificent. He starts off as a curmudgeon, all bluster and bully, and divulges a charming, softer side as the play wears on. The role was written for Burl Ives, but Yount erases all trace of that characterization and makes it his own. The chemistry between this father and son is mesmerizing. There isn’t a false moment in this act, this time of storytelling and revelations. There is no mendacity in their performances.
A violent scene near the end of Act one made for more comic relief than tension due to awkward staging. The repeated use of the word “fucking” instead of the original term, “rutting” was distracting and inappropriate for the time period. The homosexual overtones were ambiguous in this production, which will spark further debate amongst audience-goers about Brick’s relationship with Skipper, and the rationale behind the rejection of his beautiful wife.
The choice to use the more popular second version of Act III was a good one…it gave the audience a welcome opportunity to see Big Daddy again.
Karen Batra has some memorable scathing moments as Gooper’s obnoxious wife Mae and the mother of the infamous “no-neck monsters”. (Amelia Magee, Roxanne Fisher, & Samantha Fisher, incidentally, are far too cute to be monsters!)
The set design by first time designer Amanda Acker was breathtaking. She filled the enormous stage of the Thomas Jefferson Community Theater with gorgeous white and gold trimmed French Provincial furniture, swaths of sheer chiffon that lent an airy feel to the room (perfect as it opened out onto the gallery), and clever architectural details like the design of the doors to both the bedroom and the en suite bathroom. Scenic Seamstress (Irene Molnar) created a glorious backdrop of the sky complete with moving clouds and a silvery moon.
The lighting design (AnnMarie Castrigno) was divine. Every color palette was chosen to suit the changing moods, and the special lighting effects (the fireworks, the storm, etc.) just added a distinctive element to the show. The sound design (Alan Wray) was creative and spot on. Some of the costumes (Eric S. Scerbo) seemed a little off for the period, but were nicely done in general.
The Arlington Players have done a decent presentation of a superb play. Act II is well worth the ticket price and the three hours spent in the theater.
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