Friday, March 31, 2017

ANTAEUS bursts the walls with Tennessee Williams’ CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF

Harry Groener and Ross Philips
Photo by Steven C. Kemp
 “There is nothing so motivated as a cat on a hot tin roof,”  the playwright reminds us through his character of Margret/Maggie the Cat (Rebecca Mozo).  There are layers of exploration that Williams creates for us to peel away; thick with the mores of the 1950s, Cold War Era, and McCarthyism that defined American society in a time when conformity was all about toeing the line and delivering what was expected of one’s self.     

That Williams drank heavily, used drugs and was gay probably meant that he had to deal with discrimination, both overt and subtle that permeated the world sixty years ago, Certainly, this made catering to theatre audiences of the 1950s a challenge.  Thus, examination of some of the ambiguous relationships in this wonderfully complex piece has waffled over the years.   Antaeus has adapted the 1974 version of the play restored by Williams from the version that was originally softened to coax Elia Kazan to direct the Broadway production in 1955. We must keep in mind that in the sixty years since this play was first mounted, though some of our society may still struggle with the fear of women’s power and the success of homosexuals that still plague world society, that those times were especially difficult times for women and gays around the world.   Layer upon layer of the characters’ motivation that emerge are fodder for intense discussion and debate.    

Cameron Watson’s direction of “The Buttered Biscuits” cast mostly attends to the same careful detail as Steven C. Kemp’s out of balance scenic design: a bed-sitting room in the mansion on Big Daddy’s 28,000 acre plantation where all of the action takes place.  When a serious theatre company leaps full on into any Tennessee Williams project, the coordination of all aspects of the play must find harmony.  Interestingly, in the three hour production, after each intermission, the set becomes more unbalanced and the story crumbles into a condemnation of ‘mendacity’… the fabric of lies and avoided truths that   creates the matrix of the play.

 Brick (Ross Philips) has broken his ankle while attempting to run the hurdles at the local high school track.  Having taken to ‘drink’ he realizes that he couldn’t  have cleared them even when sober.  One scholar defined this character as “caught in the amber of his adolescence.”    Brick’s failure as a husband and as a sports announcer must turn on the loss of his ‘true friend’ Skipper and using alcohol to bridge the gap.  Drinking heavily throughout the play Philips seems in and out of his inebriation, waiting for the ‘click’ that will bring him peace.  Rebecca Mozo as Maggie dominates the first act, ranting from first light, not really giving her character an opportunity to much build.  The inner fire that is impossible not to remember from Elizabeth Taylor’s film version of the character is an unfair comparison, but it is important for fire and nuance to build from within.  The woman is an enchantress, not a harpie.

Sex and sexuality are part and parcel of the message and it is brought to the fore with expert strokes by long time Antaeus actor, Harry Groener as Big Daddy.  The underlying issue of mortality and power burst with intrigue as the patriarch and his favorite son battle for understanding. Nuance is the key here and Groener’s performance delights.  There is stage magic in the ability of this actor to move from moment to moment with such agility.

As Big Mama, Dawn Didawick is a put upon and dismissed spouse as many submissive wives of the times were forced to be.  Her time to shine arrives at the climax of the play where forty years of frustration come to a head.

Patrick Wenk-Wolff as Gooper and Jocelyn Towne as Mae are mordant for the scrambling greed that permeates the piece.  Gooper is Big Daddy’s rejected son though he and Mae have prospered heartily with a brood of children. Maggie wonders why they were named for dogs… and a parrot: Trixie, Dixie and Polly!
It is unfortunate that the ‘no neck monsters’ necessary to the production have been included.  Many children on stage are ‘acting’ while seasoned actors do their best to maintain character.  These are moments that, sad to say, distract.

Terri A. Lewis’s costumes brilliantly reflect the times, coordinating fluidly with the whole production.   Some shadows stage left were distracting, with dramatic side lighting from time to time. 

The layers of discovery in the plot of this Williams classic emerge beautifully, in spite of any criticism here.  Opening a brand new theatre space is a challenge and I recommend that patrons come prepared with some knowledge of the play for full enjoyment.  We welcome Antaeus to Glendale and know that their arrival is now another brilliant jewel in the crown of our Jewel City.

By Tennessee Williams
Antaeus Theatre
Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center
110 East Broadway
Glendale, CA 91205
(between N. Brand Blvd. and Maryland Ave.)

Previews: March 16-22
Performances: March 23 – May 7
Tuesday at 8 p.m.: March 21 ONLY (preview)
Wednesday at 8 p.m.: March 22 ONLY (preview)
Thursdays at 8 p.m.: March 16 (preview), 23 (opening), 30; April 6, 13, 20, 27; May 4
Fridays at 8 p.m.: March 17 (preview), 24 (opening), 31; April 7, 14, 21, 28; May 5
Saturdays at 2 p.m.: April 1, 8, 15, 22, 29; May 6 (no 2 p.m. perf. on March 18 or March 25)
Saturdays at 8 p.m.: March 18 (preview), 25; April 1, 8, 15, 22, 29; May 6
Sundays at 2 p.m.: March 19 (preview), 26; April 2, 9, 16, 23, 30; May 7, 2017
Tickets and Information:
818 506 1983

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