Saturday, June 23, 2012

"Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" -- The Play (A Review)

The human drama knows no boundaries of space and time, and nobody – young or old, rich or poor, man or woman – is ever completely immune to it. The Pollitts, a respected southern family who proudly owns a plush cotton plantation in 1950’s Mississippi, appear to have everything one can desire, money and power, but unfortunately, they cannot buy happiness. Maggie and Brick Pollitt carry the weight of a marriage wounded by guilt and poor choices; Big Daddy and Big Mama, the heads of the Pollitt dynasty, struggle to keep up appearances, but they are also trapped in a marriage devoid of love; Gooper and Mae Pollitt, Big Daddy’s eldest son and his wife, strive to win a place of leadership in the plantation and a corner in the old man’s heart. When the family comes together for Big Daddy’s 65th birthday, many truths hidden behind the gold-plated fa├žade of southern pleasantries finally explode for all to see, and many conflicts are brought to the surface to be cleansed and healed. The story, which was made popular by Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman, who starred in the 1958 blockbuster film Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, finds its origins in a play of the same name by Tennessee Williams. Before being landed by Taylor and Newman, the roles of Brick and Maggie were offered to Ben Gazzara, Elvis Presley, Lana Turner and Grace Kelly, who turned them down. The Broadway production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof opened on March 24, 1955. The lives and conflicts the Pollitts endure in the play are set in a different era, but they easily apply to modern life, and the stage performance is as timely today as it was in the 1950’s when it was initially produced on stage. Lucky for me -- and for many other spectators who filled the audience seats -- this year’s production, brilliantly directed by Ira David Wood IV, was offered at Theater in the Park in Raleigh, NC. The whole play is breathtaking. Aside from the charming setting of a beautiful southern plantation, and a timeless storyline that offers a cocktail of daring topics such as homosexuality, sibling rivalry, resentment, and profound unease worn with a smile, what made the play truly enjoyable was the stellar performance the actors gave. My heart ached for Maggie, as she tried her best to shake her grieving husband from his guilt-ridden reverie and save him from the clutches of alcohol; I felt compassion for Big mama, doing all she could to preserve the image and the integrity of her family, and ultimately, I could almost taste the pain Gooper grew up with, knowing he would never match up to his brother in his parents’ eyes, no matter how desperately he tried. Sarah Bousquet and Rob Rainbolt dazzled the crowd with their spellbinding performance as they brought Maggie and Brick to life; Brook North and Erin Tito, in the roles of Gooper and Mae were brilliant; Bonnie Roe and John T. “Jack” Hall were awesome as plantation owners; Annabel Bloom and Noah Zevin were priceless as Dixie and Sonny, Gooper’s children; and finally, Mike Rumble in the role of reverend Tooker, Randy Jordan in the role of Doctor Baugh, Dempsey Bond in the role of Lacey, and JaCynthia Wallace in the role of Sookey, all delivered perfectly polished performances and likeable humor. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof will come alive on stage again at Theater in the Park on Pullen Drive in Raleigh, NC, on June 23 at 7:30 pm and on June 24 – the final performance – at 3:00 pm.