“There ain’t nothin’ more powerful than the odor of mendacity.” This one line offers up the theme of Tennessee William’s renowned Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in ten simple words. But, as evidenced in the Keegan Theatre’s sparkling production, there is nothing simple about the relationships on this Mississippi estate.
Williams’ exploration of the matrix of lies and hypocrisy beneath well-to-do Southern society shocked audiences in its day. The play still resonates more than 50 years later, and this production from directors Mark and Susan Marie Rhea highlights the timelessness of the relationships, struggles, motives, and perseverance in this American classic.
As in all of Williams’ work, of course, the characters here wear their brokenness like a seersucker jacket.
A captive feline in heat, Maggie prowls the stage desperate for her husband’s affection, but is rebuffed by Brick at every turn. Shattered by the death of his best friend, he can’t reconcile himself to the idea that their bond had been more than platonic. And as the family rallies to celebrate the 65th birthday of patriarch and self-made plantation mogul Big Daddy, they are also concealing a terrible secret.
The white furnishings and gauzy walls of Matthew Keenan’s set offer a gorgeous, if penetrable, façade for the characters to shatter. And they do.
The three most psychologically complex characters in the play – the lonely would-be seductress Maggie (Brianna Letourneau), embittered alcoholic Brick (Kevin Hasser), and his father Big Daddy (Kevin Adams) – deliver on that complexity in riveting and heartbreaking ways on the Keegan stage.
Letourneau’s Maggie – or Maggie the Cat – is a highly corporeal being, responding to the family melodrama by fixating on her appearance and releasing a seemingly unending stream of words into the boudoir she and her husband share. Beneath her languid affectations and desperate sexual need is Maggie’s unyielding will to survive, and Letourneau balances the character’s strength and anxiety with grace.
In contrast to Maggie’s endless chatter, Brick communicates largely through silence. And Hasser’s poignantly expressive reactions to the chaos around him are often the most compelling thing onstage. As the play and Brick’s inebriation progress, his sensitive, manly brooding heats to a boil, making room for the larger words and realizations we see in him all along.
Adams’ brusque confidence and new-lease-on-life exuberance come through as he urges his son to unburden himself from his long-tended secrets, but eventually it is Big Daddy who struggles with his own hard truth.
Brick’s smarmy brother Gooper (Colin Smith) and his nosy, judgmental, and highly fertile wife Mae (Kerri Rambow) serve as comedic villains. He’s angling to swipe the plantation after Big Daddy dies, and his tactless attempts show little sense of connection to or compassion for Big Mama, his emotionally wrought mother (Linda High).
Richie Montgomery (Rev. Tooker), Timothy H. Lynch (Doc Baugh), Jade Jones (Sookey), Ian Anthony (Lacey), and Calder LeValley (Sonny) round out the ensemble and add Mississippi flavor to the stage.
This production marks the start of Keegan Theatre’s new season, as well as the first in its sleek, renovated space. But while the look of the building has changed, the intimate nature of Keegan’s work remains as central as ever. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof essentially invites its audience into the family’s space and psyche in this southern-fried melodrama.
A remarkable night of theatre worthy of Keegan’s much-anticipated reopening. Brave the bayou heat and grab a ticket.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams . Directed by Mark A. Rhea and Susan Marie Rhea . Featuring Kevin Adams, Ian Anthony Coleman, Kevin Hasser, Linda High, Jade Jones, Calder Declan LeValley, Brianna Letourneau, Timothy J. Lynch, Richie Montgomery, Kerri Rambow and Colin Smith . Set design: Matthew Keenan, Lighting design: Michael Innocenti . Costume design: Erin Nugent . Sound design: Tony Angelini . Properties & Set Dressing: Carol Baker . Hair and Makeup: Craig Miller . Stage Manager: Alexis J. Rose . Produced by Keegan Theatre . Reviewed by Jen Clements.