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