Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
By Tennessee Williams
New York City • Nov 3, 2003
Looking for a large dose of invigorating acting? A jaw-dropping example is the second act of Tennessee Williams's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof as restaged with wounding elegance by Anthony Page. Big Daddy, played as valiantly vulgar by Ned Beatty, is trying to get his near-catatonic son Brick, played with surpassing subtlety by Jason Patric, to face the reasons for his having given himself over to alcoholic isolation. During this scene, the two men turn Maria Björnson's Southern-mansion bedroom as very particularly described by the playwright into a boxing ring where two well-matched dramatic heavyweights pummel each other physically and emotionally until they achieve simultaneous TKOs.
Maggie (Ashley Judd) represents the life force in a play where so much is dying -- the South included -- and wherein, during the course of three acts and two and a half hours of continuous action, Williams endeavors to depict the weaknesses and strengths of the at-risk population. "Maggie the cat is alive," the anxious woman shouts at Brick in her unabated endeavor to bring him around. "This girl has life in her body," Big Daddy trumpets after Maggie has lied and said that she's pregnant, but his proclamation has another meaning: Enceinte or not, Maggie does have life in her body. That's why she initially seems the focal figure of the play, though not as Williams intended. In a stage direction of genuine literary beauty, Williams writes, "The bird that I hope to catch in the net of this play is not the solution of one man's psychological problem. I'm 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."
Another revelation in the cast is Margo Martindale as Big Mama. The phrase "born to play the part" may never have a more fitting application. The roly-poly Martindale, who has the two chins that Gooper jokes about, misses no chance to coddle or cower before Big Daddy in the manner required by Williams. Michael Mastro and Amy Hohn are suitably crass as Gooper and Mae, often called Brother Man and Sister Woman; they're never the caricatures they might be as limned on the page. Edwin C. Owens as Doctor Baugh, who has to give Big Mama the bad news of her hubby's condition, is convincing; and Patrick Collins does it up right as Reverend Tooker, whose function in the proceedings seems to be a comment on religion's damning ineffectuality.