Embracing the Dysfunction

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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955) is probably the best play Williams wrote in the '50s. The play is a little overcooked, even by Williams' standards, but in the right hands it can be a galvanizing drama about family loyalty and suppressed desire. The trick with producing a Tennessee Williams play is that you need to embrace the Southern-fried dysfunction without letting things stray into camp. That requires actors who know how to turn up the dial while keeping things recognizably human. It also needs a director who can handle melodrama, which is a trickier balancing act than you might think. Under the steady direction of Keith Phillips, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is all about the actors. The set is as basic as it gets, and the sound and lighting effects are almost distractingly bad. But with a strong cast nailing some of the principal roles, the unglamorous presentation is unlikely to bug you. You can't have a memorable Cat on a Hot Tin Roof without a strong Big Daddy, and Christian Phillips is one of the best I've seen. He hits all of the necessary notes — the good-ol'-boy malice, the quick wit, the insecurity and fear. The other actors nearly match him. As Big Mama, Hannah Marks is a perfect foil to his bluster, and Carole Robinson's Mae is a hilarious prude. Brick and Maggie are, however, more of a mixed bag: Nicholas Russell doesn't quite master the accent, and Jennifer Welch lacks the sultriness Maggie requires. But these are frankly minor criticisms. Phillips doesn't cut anything from the script — the show runs three hours, including two intermissions — and to everyone's credit, it never drags.
Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Starts: Oct. 1. Continues through Oct. 22, 2010

 
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