The first thing you’ll notice about Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at Round House Theatre is the set. It would be impossible to walk into the Bethesda theatre and not marvel at the luscious recreation of the turbulent Mississippi plantation home that has become a staple of American theater.
The mahogany, the velvet, the enormous patio doors: It’s all just a little larger than life, which soon becomes the calling card of the production, a near cinematic portrayal of one of America’s greatest plays.
Every design and every choice here is precisely on point. From the rich lighting to the beds of sound, the production is entirely evocative, a display of theatrical escapism that transports the audience to the hot summer night in the Delta where the Pollitt family undergoes its trial by fire. And while the theater falls away and the world of Williams begins to surround the audience, one cannot help but be enraptured by the personal, familial, and psychological drama that is a staple of theatrical canon.
Part of its strength comes simply from the script, which needs no praise that it has not already been given. But it’s easy to remember Cat on a Hot Tin Roof as a classic of the 20th century and forgot how absolutely ahead of his time Tennessee Williams really was. This is a master class in American tragedy, still never topped to this day in so many regards.
And, luckily, Round House has pulled together an unbelievable cast to fill the enormous shoes that Williams left for us. A sub-par cast can quickly turn a great play sour, but every performer here is firing on all cylinders and – what’s more – bouncing off one another with a boiling energy that heats up the already oppressive night.
Cat is only as strong as its cast, and thanks to the amazing performers and their unquestionable chemistry, the script roars through its near three hours. Sarah Marshall and Rick Foucheux could very well retire Big Momma and Big Daddy; their performances are so spot on, so peerless, that one would be hard pressed to find anyone better. Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan tackles Maggie with unparalleled energy and grace, taking on fully one of the most difficult characters in American drama. And Gregory Wooddell is absolutely deft as Brick, handling his alcoholism with reality and responsibility and bringing so much nuance to the character that he finds brand new layers to the enigmatic ex-athlete.
CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF
March 30 – April 24, 2016
Round House Theatre
4545 East-West Highway
Bethesda MD 20814
2 hours, 40 minutes with 2 intermissions
Tickets: $36 – $51
Check for discounts!
There’s nothing immediate about Round House’s production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. There’s no occasion for telling, save the fact that it’s a great play. And it is a great play. And this is a great production of it. But in its greatness there’s a certain sense of middling, a longing to be more, to engage more directly, or at the very least try something new.
That’s not the case here, a production that hangs its hat on its polish and commits fully to quality over novelty. And in almost every way it succeeds, with a near flawless performances. If that sounds like your cup of tea, then this is one of the strongest brews you can find. But there’s something unsettling about “flawless” sometimes. It flies in the face of the here-and-now-ness that keeps live performance alive. And while Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a triumph of production, it reminds ever so subtly that creative complacency can create prescriptions out of classics.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams. Directed by Mitchell Hébert. Featuring Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan, Gregory Wooddell, Marni Penning, Todd Scofield, Rick Foucheux, Sarah Marshall, Tom Truss, Stephen Patrick Martin, Griffin McCahill, Caroline Rilette, Mia Rilette, Grace Doughty, Larisa Jeffers, Evan Willson, Christopher Michael Richardson. Scenic Design: Meghan Raham. Costume Design: Ivania Stack. Lighting Design: Andrew R. Cissna. Sound Design & Composer: Christopher Baine. Props: Kasey Hendricks. Dramaturg: Brent Stansell. Dialect Coach: Lynn Watson. Production Stage Manager: Bekah Wachenfeld. Produced by Round House Theatre. Reviewed by Sean Craig.