Southern Fried Mendacity at Actors’ NET of Bucks County

by Arlene Price Kohler

CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF is reportedly Tennessee Williams’ favorite play and one of his best known works. Despite the fact that some of the homosexual themes were tamed by the censorship laws of the 50’s it won a Pulitzer Prize in 1955. The role of Maggie has been played by such notables as Barbara Bel Geddes, Elizabeth Taylor, Natalie Wood, Elizabeth Ashley, Ashley Judd and Kathleen Turner. Brick has been played by Ben Gazzara, Keir Dullea and Paul Newman. Notable Big Daddy actors include Burl Ives, Charles Durning, Ned Beatty and James Earl Jones.

Cat Miller stars as "Maggie the Cat" in the Actors' NET of Bucks County production of Tennessee Williams' CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, playing through November 14 in Morrisville PA.

I think Tennessee Williams would be pleased with the Actors’ NET production. I know I was.

What a lovely theater experience Actors’ NET gifts us with. We are warmly greeted at the door by a well-dressed gentleman with a twinkle in his eye and a mouse in his tie. It’s Joe Doyle, the General Manager of this theater, a former municipal building which has undergone a transformation into a well appointed and well run theater. We are shown to our plush reclining seats…no bad seats in this 78 seat theater. The stage is set, a richly appointed bedroom in white and gold with cleverly placed exits and entrances suggesting an outside galley and a hallway. And so the night begins.

Cheryl Doyle directs this production and she does not serve us just the traditionally slip covered ( or uncovered) Maggie. Cheryl goes for the heart. This story is about more than money and land, about more than greed and power. It is a powerful drama about a southern family in crisis, dealing with dysfunction, family secrets, social mores and sexual tension. Director Doyle handles the sexual aspects of the show with genius – never letting them become the main focus of her characters intent. The real motivation behind the interactions of the characters is revealed as the overriding will to survive.

Enter Cat Miller who plays Maggie the Cat…scratch that…Cat Miller BECOMES Maggie the Cat. As she chatters nonstop about family members, especially her overly fertile, pregnant sister-in-law, to her captive audience: husband Brick, who, leaning on one crutch drinks another. Ms. Miller plays the role not as a southern seductress, (don’t worry, she has the accent plus the good looks) but rather as a strong willed, determined woman turned sour by disappointment, clawing to retain what was once hers. She does an excellent job.

John Helmke plays the injured, alcoholic, impotent and apathetic Brick. His performance seems effortless. As he all but ignores Maggie’s probing at his emotional wounds, you start to forget you are watching a performance but rather feel as if you are peeking through the window.

Filthy rich, proud and dying Big Daddy is portrayed by Doug Kline in another outstanding performance. He does not fall into the trap of being the big bellowing and bossy southern patriarch. The scene where he confronts and explores the reasons behind his son Brick’s alcoholism is strong and sharp.

Big Mama, portrayed by Virginia Barrie, is a woman who is trying desperately to hold on to whatever little bits of dignity and happiness the family still has. Another brilliant performance. (Love the walk.) Seeing Ms. Barrie off stage confirms this…she appears to be an entirely different person.

Jack Bathke is the overlooked brother man and Susan Blair plays his wife, Mae. Both play convincingly conniving roles as they scramble to gain Big Daddy’s affection and control over his estate.

Rounding out the cast are the nattily dressed Marco Newton, who is also assistant director, portraying with skill the family Doctor; Michael Waintraub as the quiet Reverend; and three little no necks, Lauren Silverstein as Dixie, Danielle Gruenke as Trixie and Eva Crosson as Polly, making a good deal of noise and singing sweetly. Good job girls.

Andrena Wishnie and Corey Stradling effectively designed and handled the lighting. Nicely done.

Folks, for local theater at its finest, head to Actors’ NET at the Heritage Center in Morrisville PA.

by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Cheryl Doyle
October 29 – November 14, 2010
Actors’ NET of Bucks County
635 N. Delmorr Avenue (Route 32)
Morrisville, PA

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