Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is an obsessive work which makes wildly different demands on its actors. Renata Eastlick as Maggie starts us off which what amounts to a twenty-five to thirty-minute monologue. She did this superbly. It was just overbearing enough. Listening to her was the excellent Loren Dunn who played her husband Brick, and he has scarcely ten lines in the play. Often he is reduced to single syllables. When you think about it clearly you can see that this is a structural pattern throughout the play: “johnny-one-note” characters who say too much or too little. On top of this dysfunction rests a heavy dose of mendacity, the play’s theme word. Everybody lies, communication has essentially broken down, and this keeps all the characters trying. The pater familias, known as Big Daddy, is brutally treated to one lie after another and must at the end accept that he is mortally ill. He in turn verbally abuses everybody but his favorite, the taciturn Brick. John Romero voiced this role of Big Daddy powerfully.
Like so many of Tennessee Williams’ plays, one can tell that it is hot outside. The claustrophobia in them is tactile. The characters stay stuck, obsessed with one thing: Maggie having a child, Big Daddy using what remains of his life, and his money, to do what he really wants to do, Brick drinking until he feels, as he says, “the click,” all the while knowing that his glory football days at Ole Miss are gone. Williams finds a way to make his plays sing. Lyricism rests just beneath the surface. This was especially true in Romero’s Big Daddy; he got ahold of this. Destined to bluster and pontificate as the self-made patriarch, his love for his son, the silent son, sang out and gave them both a voice. It was in the long discussion they have near the end of the play that the silent Brick finally told his story. I won’t spoil it for you, but it was a singing thing.
Oldcastle Theatre Company has really found a new lease on life. This is the second show, My Fair Lady being the first, that I have seen this season, and the level of the playing, the functionality of the theatre, the growing audience, were wonderful to encounter.