By Bernie Krumm, Staff Writer
I had been looking forward to seeing “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” for some time before I attended its opening night on Friday. As a huge fan of Tennessee Williams, I was anxious to see one of his plays brought to life at Hofstra. While there were certain aspects of the production that I believe to be problematic, I felt satisfied when I left the theater.
The play is both an expose of a dysfunctional family and a modern tragedy with the powerful themes of human sexuality and mendacity tied into the plot. The play revolves around the wealthy Pollit family, who has adopted mendacity as a way of life. The main focus of the play is the deteriorating marriage of Brick Pollit, an alcoholic ex-football star; and Maggie, his unsatisfied wife, who is trying to secure her husband’s share of his father’s estate. When it debuted in 1955, “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” was considered controversial as it explored a possible homosexual relationship between Brick and his best friend, Skipper (who kills himself before the events of the play take place).
By and large, Drama Department production designs are top-notch. The design for this production, directed by Jim Kolb, is no different. The bedroom setting, which is lavish and beautifully constructed, works well in juxtaposition with the Pollit family’s dysfunction. The staging also emphasizes the physical and emotional distance between Brick and Maggie.
The highlight of the production is Ian Poake’s performance as Big Daddy, the family patriarch.With his powerful stage presence and wide range, Poake is able to realize Big Daddy’s ferocity while also making the character sympathetic. He succeeds in capturing Big Daddy’s vulgar, boisterous nature, his insecurities and his love for his son, Brick. Also to his credit, his southern accent is the most natural of the entire cast.
Eliza Hill plays Maggie effectively with all of the nervousness and desperation of an unsatisfied woman. Hill also emphasizes Maggie’s sensuality, which does well to highlight Brick’s indifference towards her. As Brick, John Ball possesses the physicality of the character. He wears in his face the expression of apathy essential to the character. Brick is defined by his disgust and indifference for his wife, Maggie, and other members of his family. While Ball nails Brick’s indifference from start to finish, his disgust with Maggie is not as clearly defined. Ball rarely shows his character’s contempt for Maggie when the two are together. When he does reveal these feelings to Big Daddy later on, it doesn’t quite add up. Ball is at his best in Act II when he shares the stage with Poake, making his disgust evident. He’s also magnificent when his character’s masculinity is threatened by his questionable relationship with Skipper.
Kathryn Turley gives an exceptional performance as Big Momma, Big Daddy’s hopelessly devoted wife. Her affection for her scornful husband and son come off as pathetic but this is definitely the intent and the character proves to be both sympathetic and pitiful. David Murray, who portrays Brick’s envious brother Gooper, is able to give his character an appropriately menacing look, and the contrast between himself and Ball is quite effective. However, the actor does not posses the vocal abilities to handle some of the more intense scenes in Act III and, as a result, he comes off as whiny. Also, some of the comic relief scenes involving the preacher, in particular his exit, are a bit ridiculous and awkward.
The production is about three hours long, but rarely stagnates. The actors are able to fully realize the provocative nature of their characters and keep the audience’s interest throughout. While not for the faint of heart, “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof’s” skillful examination of human greed, desire and mortality will certainly please its intended audience.