By Tennessee Williams
Directed by Michael Menendian
At Raven Theatre, Chicago
“Mendacity is the system we live in,” Brick announces. ”Liquor is one way out and death’s the other.”
Terrific set and strong acting marks Raven Theatre’s Cat On A Hot Tin Roof
Raven Theatre, under the expert leadership of Michael Menendian, has produced many American theatre masterwork over the years. Their latest is a strong production of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof consider by many as Tennessee Williams’ finest work (I agree.) Director Menendian’s intense production had me engaged throughout the 2 hour and 30 minutes.
Set in the Mississippi Delta country outside of Memphis in 1956, we meet the rich family getting ready to celebrate Big Daddy’s (Jon Steinhagen) 60th birthday. Maggie (Liz Fletcher) and Brick (Jason Huysman) bicker about their marriage, Brick’s drinking and his inability (and lack of desire) to have sex with Maggie. Maggie has several telling speeches that lay out her desires, her anxiety and her worries toward Brick and their place in the family as it appears that Big Daddy is terminally ill. Gooper (Greg Caldwell) and his wife Mae (Eleanor Katz) have five children while Maggie and Brick have none as the two siblings jockey for favor with Big Daddy. Big Mama (Joann Montemurro deftly at her domineering best) is in total denial as to Big Daddy’s health.
Williams finds classic tragedy in the contemporary South. In this poetic expressionist vision of the struggle between truth and illusion in the face of mortality and the fraught attempts of the family members to communicate amongst themselves, Williams effectively expresses the pain and loneliness each feels as they resort to attacking each other as their means of relating. Williams stated: “I am trying to catch the true quality of experience in a group of people, that cloudy, flickering, evanescent – fiercely charged! – interplay of live human beings in the thundercloud of a common crisis.” The physicality, especially between Maggie and Brick in act one and between Big Daddy and Brick in act three electrified the emotions and cruelty of the family. Brick’s cast on his right foot and his drunkenness revealed his internal pain. Jason Huysman was so real and tortured that I could feel is pain.
Liz Fletcher, as Maggie (in the role that made Elizabeth Taylor a sex goddess in the film) most electrifyingly captured the rage, the sexuality and the sheer determination of the frustrated wife to the favored son (Brick). Husman’s self-hatred comes across loud and clear. The scene with Big Daddy about why Brick drinks was marvelously played by Huysman and Steinhagen.
The play builds the dramatic tension gradually allowing each character to unwind their problems and interact effectively. The intensity of Big Mama, Maggie and Brick worked to highlight the underlying anger and unfulfilled desires of each character. Jon Steinhagen, a terrific comic showed his emotionally intense commanding side as Big Daddy. Daddy demonstrated his true desire to help his son Brick with his demons. The play demonstrates the destructiveness of repressed sexuality, alcoholism and repressed anger. This landmark drama demonstrates how an inability to honestly communicate feeling with one another can lead to tragedy.
Joann Montemurro’s Big Mama and Eleanor Katz’s Mae were particularly effective. Cat On A Hot Tin Roof is a powerful work filled with repressed feelings and pent-up frustration. The cast was up to the task and respected the work. Raven Theatre never disappoints.
At Raven Theatre 6157 N. Clark, Chicago, IL, call 773-338-2177, www.raventheatre.com, tickets $30 ($5 discount for students/seniors), Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours 45 minutes with 2 intermissions.