Ashland, Oregon, March 29—
WE SAW TENNESSEE WILLIAMS's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof here yesterday: a fine, complex, noble play; in a resourceful, efficient, moving production; set on an energetic, dedicated, gifted cast. We've seen a number of first-rate productions here at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival; this was one of the best.
Christopher Liam Moore directed. He made his directing debut here last year, in Dead Man's Cell Phone (also an excellent outing). Christopher Acebo's design was striking: a drum of a set enclosed within an enormous white scrim-cloth curtain, bed and bar the most prominent furnishings. It turns the stage into an arena, and Stephanie Beatriz's Maggie-Cat immediately owned it, sultry, restless, rapacious, yet completely sympathetic. She rightly dominated the first act, then stepped back, often literally behind the scenes, to watch Williams's cunningly constructed play evolve; then she returns at the close with her coup de théâtre and a final glowing, tender, fulfilling speech.
Moore uses the last of Williams's rewrites of the text, loosening language that had previously been confined by commercial prudishness but at the same time opening the play to a more ambivalent set of possibilities. And this was underlined by Danforth Comins's portrayal of Brick, Maggie's husband, the sensitive younger son of the family, until now unable to provide continuity to the family line. Among other things, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof portrays alcoholism — perhaps only Malcolm Lowry's novel Under the Volcano does it better — and Comins managed this aspect marvelously, slowly befogging himself throughout the Aristotelian time-unity of the play. But he is not merely weak; nor is he clearly gay: this production goes past the closet drama to get at the even more serious, more fundamental question our century always brings to an examination of true pure friendship among men.
Drink; sex; family. To these add the even more overreaching subject: Death. Michael Winters Is the Big Daddy here, and he's a perfect match to Beatriz and Comins, completing the primary triangle. (The more you think about this play, especially after seeing so fine a production as this, the more you're struck by the geometrical perfection Williams makes of its construction.) Winters easily moves through a wide range of emotional expression: the proud bluster of the dynastic planter; the now tender, now bullying father; the paterfamilias shackled by the conventions of marriage; the exhilaration of a condemned man suddenly given back his life; the poignant awareness of a death all too close after all.
The supporting cast was up to the leads, easily moving from comedy to drama. Only the opening music, too loud, for country fiddle, seemed to miss the mark in an otherwise keenly accurate, perfectly comprehensive, fully resolved production. I wouldn't mind seeing it a second time: alas, it closes before our next visit here in September.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Bowmer Theatre, Oregon Shakespeare Festival; Ashland, Oregon, in repertory to July 4.