Opening night at the Levoy Theatre in downtown Millville and Off Broad Street Players’ production of Tennessee Williams’ CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF proved to me that theatre without songs, without funny shenanigans—a genuine classic drama can attract an audience. The large community theatre is three-quarters full. That’s a sight you don’t usually see in South Jersey for a non-musical. I was elated.
Perhaps it is that we have played to audiences made up of theatre friends and families so long that we are stuck thinking theatre-goers won’t come for anything but the large cast musical or the “edgy” shocking piece. It has always been “if it isn’t a musical it has to be a play they haven’t seen before or something outrageous.”
That said, if you think about what Williams is doing in his Pulitzer Prize-winning, his favorite and best known work, it would have struck audiences at the time as being “edgy.” So “edgy,” in fact, sexual dialogue and innuendo were cut from the film, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman—a film that is considered pivotal for Taylor, Newman and Burl Ives, the “Big Daddy” on Broadway and in the film.
Mendacity in all its forms seems to be the major theme throughout, although you could make a case for others that would have been more shocking in their day. Mendacity is simply untruthfulness, but it is the motivation for that untruthfulness that can do the most harm. Williams explores all variations.
Brick and Maggie, Brick’s older brother, his wife and children have all come to the plantation house to celebrate Big Daddy’s birthday. The underlying reason is that Big Daddy has had a health scare. It seems the hospital has also lied to Big Daddy and Big Mama, saying he had a minor colon problem and would be fine, when the truth is that he has a malignant cancer.
We learn in the play that Brick drinks and doesn’t sleep with his wife because of something having to do with his friend. Both Maggie and Big Daddy try to get at the truth. To go any further would spoil the play for someone who hasn’t read or seen it.
Off Broad Street Players’ production of CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF was excellent, starting with the beautiful cut-a-way set and furnishings. The scrim behind the windows allowed the audience to see activity outside without having to see a lot of unnecessary detail.
One general constructive note. So, take it or leave it. It always seems the fewer on stage the easier it is to block. I block organically. To the layman that means, the actors, as they are interpreting their lines, feel they should go somewhere—we explore why. It makes for motivated movement. For me, it makes those crowded scenes work for themselves.
“Maggie” played by Maura Jarve, going with an Elizabeth Taylor look that worked well, (someone in the audience made the comment) and I liked her cat stretches. Bill Branin who played “Brick” was quite effective as well, although I worried with all his drinking he wouldn’t get through without a break. I would have liked to have seen more of his non-verbal reactions, but with his head tilted down so much… Gary Lawson as “Big Daddy” and Sarah Snow as “Big Mama” were other standouts in the show. As an ensemble, all the actors were terrific. Even with the usual little things that happen on opening night, it was still a great opening night.
CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF
by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Walter A. Webster
Of Broad Street Players
126-130 N. High Street
Millville, NJ 08332
October 18-20, 2013
Saturday at 2pm & 8pm