“What is the victory of a cat on a hot tin roof?” While the cat’s case is less clear, there are many victories to be found in Antaeus Theatre Company’s take on the Pulitzer Prize-winning Tennessee Williams classic Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which marks the inaugural production at their beautiful new home, the Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center in Glendale. Directed by Cameron Watson, this ambitious, sexy piece is the perfect way to christen it.
Set in the south in the 1950s, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof unfolds over the course of one evening in the plantation home of a dysfunctional, wealthy, troubled family. In Antaeus tradition, the show is fully partner-cast, and I saw “The Hoppin’ Johns” cast on their opening weekend. The night in question is the 65th birthday party of Big Daddy (Mike McShane), the family patriarch, but unbeknownst to him and his wife, Big Mama (Julia Fletcher), he is dying of cancer. Primarily out of a desire to ensure their claim on the inheritance before the truth is revealed, his two sons and their wives initially hide this information, lying and saying the doctor’s only diagnosis was a spastic colon. The volatile relationship between Big Daddy’s favorite son, Brick (Daniel Bess), and his wife, Maggie (Linda Park) is a major focus of the piece. Maggie is desperate for a child, having watched Brick’s brother, Gooper (Michael Kirby) and sister-in-law, Mae (Tamara Krinsky) produce five, with a sixth on the way. But Brick is barely speaking to her, much less procreating with her, instead preferring to spend all of his time at the bottom of a bottle of bourbon.
Get comfortable, because this play is a lengthy one, with a running time of three hours, including two intermissions. The first act focuses on Maggie and Brick, with her desperately trying to earn his attention while he stubbornly ignores her, responding at best with abrupt answers, unable to move past the recent death of a friend who greatly complicated their marriage. Notably, Park is the first Asian woman to portray the role of Maggie “the Cat” in a professional production, and Bess is her real-life husband. Watching them go toe-to-toe is mesmerizing, and the sexy, tense scene seems to fly by. She is a stubborn, motivated woman who escaped a rough upbringing by marrying into wealth, and she is not about to let Brick’s indifference ruin their shot at the family fortune.
In act two, the focus shifts to Big Daddy, an extremely unpleasant man who, emboldened by a new sense of confidence in light of his fake clean bill of health, belittles and mistreats his entire family. The only exception is Brick, the apple of his eye and a onetime football hero turned sports broadcaster whose star and glory days have faded. As Big Daddy attempts to get Brick to confess the true cause of his alcoholism, secrets begin to come to light, making for one hell of a birthday party. McShane is fantastic in the role, and Fletcher just as much so as the woman attempting to hold her crumbling family together.
Impressively, the three hours never feel cumbersome or tedious, largely thanks to the quality and the intensity of the performances, which I have come to expect from Antaeus productions. All of the action takes place in one bedroom of the house, which the set (Steven C. Kemp) depicts to be in disarray—some floorboards are coming up and the windows and ceiling are crooked. In
what I found to be a perplexing choice, the furniture was slightly rearranged at each intermission. While clearly a stylistic and metaphorical choice, it confused the already complicated geography of the room, which already struggled to keep the specifics of where multiple entrances and exits led straight. The lighting (Jared A. Sayeg) was lovely and the sound design (Jeff Gardner) phenomenal, perfectly balancing the many sounds coming from other parts of the plantation, including screaming children and fireworks, with the animated conversations happening in the room.
This play is an American classic for a reason, and it is in extremely capable hands with Antaeus. Unlike the titular cat, who finds victory merely in maintaining footing as long as possible, this production has no such struggle, easily continuing its delicate dance until the end.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof runs at the Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center through May 7th. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8pm and Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets start at $30 and can be purchased at www.Antaeus.org. For a cast schedule indicating which performers will perform which days, click here.