★★★★☆ - Delicious
Here’s a new approach to Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” Now playing in the small venue of Majestic Repertory Theater, under the direction of Troy Heard, the show takes place completely in the bedroom of Brick and Maggie. Minor offstage dialogue comes from behind drops of white sheers contributing an air of Southern charm and heat.
At first blush, we’re treated with a gauze-filtered view of Brick, played by Adam Martinez, taking a shower in his briefs. This doesn’t create suspension of disbelief at the top of the show. The need for discretion is understandable, but the lighting might be adjusted to give us only a view of shoulders and above.
Act One is pretty much all Maggie (Breon Jenay), while she waxes on about Big Daddy’s birthday dinner Brick refused to attend. As the scene unfolds and Brick joins her onstage, Jenay provides the backstory of the failed relationship, all at too much the same level. When she says she’s “Lonely…” her intent is to attempt seduction. Failing that, she moves into trying to elicit jealousy. While Martinez remains fully in the scene, with proper reactions, Jenay doesn’t alter delivery in voice or movement fully enough to suck in the audience, to make us feel anything.
Act Two is where things heat up in this production. It took a few minutes, but Ronn Williams, as Big Daddy, and Martinez fairly light the place on fire. Here is an interpretation rarely investigated in productions of this script.
Williams makes Big Daddy a character with faults and finds the truth behind the roots of the persona; the dirt-poor farm hand of his youth are displayed full-on so that we get a three-dimensional portrayal. Williams has a vocal tic that escapes at the end of almost every line, which distracts to a degree. However, it disappears when he really digs to the soul of Big Daddy.
Martinez brings a quiet fire to Brick. He remains aloof, yet stays in the scene with underlying pain as he tries to drown self-disgust with endless liquor. Martinez also does something most actors fail at when playing alcoholics – he never gets sloppy drunk; enunciation and movement remain. His misery erupts in stages as Big Daddy prods for the truth, and Martinez lets us see it develop.
A parent and child so alike the two never connect is a wonderful way of writing truth into family dynamics. Eric Amblad finds it and delivers it; at first bestowing the power to wife Mae, played with rightful greed and avarice by Kady Heard, then seizing control there even as he loses his battle for control of the plantation.
Susan Lowe Shlisky (Big Mama) finally finds and delivers emotional bedrock in Act Three as she confronts her children, and the truth of her husband’s health.
This is the second presentation of the script this season. I can’t speak to the first because I didn’t attend, but if you appreciate Classic American Theatre you should head on over. Heck, it’s worth it for Act Two alone.
When: Thursday - Saturday 8pm; Sundays 5pm through January 27
Tickets: $25 (www.majesticrepertory.com)
Producer: Majestic Repertory Theatre; Director: Troy Heard; Lighting Design: Marcus Randolph; Scenic Design: Amy Gallach; Costume Design: Kathy Wusnack; Sound Design: Andrew Young; Stage Manager: Coral Benedetti