“…nothing’s more determined than a cat on a hot tin roof”

Last night was yet another night of the heat wave we’ve been having in the Valley. There were hot roofs, and I’m sure the occasional cat was on one. But last night we saw a different type of cat on a different type of roof. We left the valley for the cool of the Palos Verdes Pennisula, and in a beautiful little theatre overlooking the crashing waves, we saw the final performance of the Neighborhood Playhouse‘s production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof“. The “cat” in the title refers not to a feline friend, but the female of our species, and as for the roof, that’s best explained by this interchange between two of the principle characters in the play:

Brick: Win what? What is the victory of a cat on a hot tin roof?
Maggie: Just staying on it, I guess. As long as she can.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” is a Pulitzer-Prize winning play written by Tennessee Williams. It tells the story of a decaying southern family, the Pollitts. The family patriarch (“Big Daddy”) is dying, and his two children are scrambling to get their piece of the substantial wealth, including 28,000 acres of prime land. Well, his children (his two sons Brick and Gooper) aren’t scrambling, but their wives certainly are. They are going at it like, well, cats. In one corner we have Gooper and Mae, and their five (soon to be six) children, including Dixie, Trixie, and Polly. The children are misbehaved, Mae is scheming and gossiping, and Gooper is exploiting legal angles. However, Gooper and Mae have one significant problem: Big Daddy dislikes them intensely (and Big Daddy is a nasty man). In the other corner we have Brick and Maggie. Brick is, to be blunt, a drunk. He drinks and drinks until he feels the click, which takes him away from the world. He does this to escape the loss of his only true friend, Skipper, who drank himself to death after an affair with Maggie (the depth of the relationship is left unsaid, but there are clear implications of something that was unacceptable in 1955). He also drinks to escape Maggie — it is unclear whether he hates her, but he is clearly indifferent to her. Needless to say, they haven’t been having sex or even been civil to each other. Brick has been been rapidly sinking — as the story starts, he had just broken his ankle jumping hurdles while drunk. But Maggie, eager for the inheritence, has been putting on “the face”: there is nothing wrong, there is no drinking problem, and that there might even be a child on the way.

The central theme of this play is a family destroyed by, as Brick puts it, “mendacity”: in other words, this is a family is given to or characterized by deception or falsehood or divergence from absolute truth. In other words: they lie like dogs. Or is that cats? Anyway: Brink lies to Maggie. Maggie lies to Brick. Maggie lies to Big Daddy. Big Mama lies to Big Daddy. Everyone hides everything, unless, of course, it can be used to hurt. This, of course, means they are a typical American family :-), and perhaps this is why this play has resonated so well over the years to become a classic.

The Neighborhood Playhouse did a pretty good job with the play: they did their usual remarkable job of transforming the Church Fellowship Hall into a decying Southern plantation (kudos on the design go to Andrew Vonderschmitt and the team at Capricorn Design). In this plantation they dropped an amazing team of actors. As Maggie, Kathleen Earlyæ combines beauty with claws, turning on the pleasance on the surface that distracts you from the machinations and scheeming. She had a strong stage presence, and was very believable in the role. As Brick, her husband, Aaron Blakeæ had the movements and the anger down pat, but didn’t give off the aura of functioning alcoholic as much as I would have liked — his aura was more handsome and stupid than handsome, stupid, and drunk. Big Daddy, the main presence in Act II, was played very strongly by Michael Prohaskaæ — he came across as the plantation owner who gets what he wants in the way that he wants it, and was enjoying the power that his believed medical respite gave him (his family had told him the doctors report was clear and it was just a spastic colon). Rounding out the major characters were Mark A. Crossæ as Gooper, who came across as a believable dunderhead; Jennifer L. Davisæ as his pregnant wife Mae, who had the scheming down but moved far too easy for a woman that far along; and Nadya Starræ as Big Mama, Big Daddy’s wife who was estatic and relieved that Big Daddy was going to be well… until he wasn’t. All these characters were clawing for whatever they could get, but in a truly Southern way.

Rounding out the cast in relatively minor roles were Beverly Oliver and E. Fé as Sookey and Lacey, the house staff; Chris O’Connor as Doctor Baugh; Gordon Wellsæ as Reverent Tooker; and Hannah Kreiswirth, Rebecca Jester, and Rachelle Dale as Mae’s “no neck” children, Dixie, Trixie, and Polly. Most of these actors didn’t stand out strongly one way or the other (a good thing, given the smallness of the roles); however, Hannah just didn’t quite seem right in the role, but as the role is so small, it truly is a minor comment.
[æ denotes members of æ Actors Equity ]

On the technical side, I’ve already mentioned the excellent set by Vonderschmitt and his team. The costumes by Nancy Ling did a reasonable job of reflecting the 1950s south, although I was unsure about all the white suits (this wasn’t Miami). The hair design by Michael Aldapa was fine. The lighting design by Christopher Singleton was very naturalistic reflecting the effect of what the outside lighting would be (as Erin would note: lots of amber). There were no spots, scrollers, or moving lights, which worked well. The production was managed by Holly Baker-Kreiswirth (must be Hannah’s mother). Direction was by the artistic director of the Neighborhood Playhouse, Brady Schwind.

This was the last performance of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”.

Dining Notes: We drove down a bit early, and had dinner in this little shopping area near Pacific Coast Highway and P.V. Blvd. We ate at Casa Arigato, which had some very nice sushi (including steamed sushi, which we hadn’t seen before). My only comment was the could have been a bit clearer on the menu: I had a beef bowl, which turned out to have fresh mushrooms in it. These triggered some allergies and a bit of a headache. If we go back, I’ll order something different.

Upcoming Theatre: Next weekend is busy: Friday is an alumni Shabbat at Hilltop, and Saturday brings “Cats” at Cabrillo Music Theatre in Thousand Oaks (our last Saturday matinee before our tickets move to Saturday evening), … and Sunday bring “Guys and Dolls” in concert at 8:30pm at the Hollywood Bowl. August 8 brings us back to the Pasadena Playhouse for the musical “Crowns”. We go on vacation shortly after that, but while on vacation we’re seeing “Tinyard Hill” at TheatreWorks in Palo Alto on Sun 8/16 @ 7:30 (Goldstar). Sat 8/22 sees us back at the REP for “Beyond Therapy by Christopher Durang. August closes with the Hollywood Bowl on Saturday 8/29, where we are seeing Liza Minnelli. September brings the High Holy Days (Rosh Hashana is the evening of 9/18 and the morning of 9/19; Yom Kippur is the evening of 9/27 and the day of 9/28). The only theatre ticketed so far in September is “The Hound of the Baskervilles” at the REP on 9/25 @ 8pm. Concertwise, September brings Tom Paxton at McCabes on 9/13. October brings “The Night is a Child” at The Pasadena Playhouse on 10/3 @ 8pm and “Guys and Dolls” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on 10/24 @ 8pm, and should also bring “Parade” at the Mark Taper Forum (HotTix go on sale 9/3; the show runs 9/24 through 11/15). As a reminder, I’m also always looking for interesting productions on Goldstar and LA Stage Tix, so if you have a production to recommend, please do so.

Lastly, remember that a recent study showed that it isn’t possessions that are important — it is shared experiences. So go have one of the best shared experiences there is: go support your local live theatre, and help keep all the people who work at the theatre (from the cast to the technical staff) employed.